Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘January will be a dark month:’ Mexico City dithered as Covid infections soared

The Mexico City government took too long to order a second economic shutdown and faces a dark month in January as coronavirus cases and the number of hospitalized patients mount, according to a health institute director.

Authorities on Friday announced a three-week suspension of nonessential economic activities in Mexico City and México state as both states regressed to “maximum” risk red on the coronavirus stoplight system.

But the director of one of Mexico’s main health institutes who spoke to Washington Post columnist León Krauze said the lockdown order in the capital should have come sooner.

“January will be a dark month, and I don’t think things will go well,” said the director, who requested anonymity in order to  speak openly.

“It was a mistake not to go back into lockdown [sooner]. We missed a precious opportunity to contain the virus,” the official told Krauze. “They took too long” to implement red light restrictions, he declared.

Another patient enters a Mexico City hospital.
Another patient enters a Mexico City hospital.

“Let’s hope it [the shutdown] helps in some way, but bed occupancy rate has been on a continuous and upward climb, and numbers are probably being underestimated. The government knows they don’t have enough infrastructure to handle what’s happening. They have been negligent.”

Writing in the Post on Friday, Krauze charged that Mexico City had become “the picture of pandemic denialism.”

Large numbers of people, including many not wearing face masks, last week swarmed the capital’s downtown area for Christmas shopping and  “social distancing was nowhere to be found,” he wrote.

“And why would it?” Krauze continued. “With no consistent restrictions or enforcement in place, people chose to ignore the threats of mingling in public.”

The columnist charged that Mexico City’s health system could collapse in early 2021 if hospitalizations continue increasing at the rate seen recently and claimed that the “dismal scenario” the capital faces could have been avoided.

Krauze wrote that Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum “snubbed her own administration’s color-coded traffic-light system” by not implementing red light restrictions earlier.

He quoted political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor who wrote a column on the news website Expansíon Política on Tuesday. “The epidemiological traffic light in Mexico City was supposed to turn red when hospital occupancy is greater than 65% or there is a two-week stable increase in the number of Covid-19 infections. The second condition had been met for several weeks and the first a few days back.”

Krauze asserted that “Sheinbaum’s dithering stems from her own political quandary.”

Writing that the mayor has long been considered a “natural successor” to the president, the columnist claimed that “Sheinbaum’s political ambitions have led her to put the denialist optics López Obrador prefers before sensible public health policy.”

(The president initially played down the seriousness of the pandemic threat, seldom wears a face mask and defends his government’s pandemic response despite Mexico having one of the worst coronavirus case tallies and death tolls in the world.)

Former federal health minister Salomón Chertorivski, one of several ex-health chiefs who have been highly critical of the pandemic response, told Krauze that all of the mayor’s decisions with regard to managing the virus have been politically motivated.

“For decades, Mexico City had been a counterweight to the federal government. Now, the mayor won’t dare contradict the president,” he said, although Sheinbaum has been a much more forceful advocate of mask use and coronavirus testing.

covid testing
Mayor Sheinbaum hasn’t strictly followed the federal government’s lead. She has gone her own way on testing and the use of face masks.

Krauze wrote that Sheinbaum’s loyalty to López Obrador (the mayor represents Morena, the party founded by the president) and his “worst impulses” are hurting Mexico City “when other state governments within Mexico have shown no qualms in enforcing restrictions to manage the disease.”

Sheinbaum said Friday that her government will provide financial support to people affected by the three-week economic shutdown but Krauze asserted that the mayor has so far adhered to López Obrador’s doctrine of providing scant assistance to prop up the economy despite the sharp coronavirus-induced downturn.

“Contrary to most countries in the world, López Obrador has rejected pleas for a vigorous stimulus package that could help small businesses in Mexico (more than 1 million have closed) and, crucially, could allow for a stricter lockdown,” he wrote.

“This has left millions of people with no choice. Caught between the pandemic and a lack of support that has bordered on moral indifference, many formal and informal businesses in Mexico had to stay open, risking the lives of employees and customers,” Krauze said.

“There’s a better way forward, but it requires divorcing political ambition from what experts say must be done. Mexico City’s mayor could choose to break loose from the stubborn policies of the president and instead deliver on the progressive policies she campaigned on for years.”

Source: The Washington Post (en) 

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