Sarah DeVries
Navy medical personnel at the ready at a Mexico City hospital. Navy medical personnel at the ready at a Mexico City hospital.

In Xalapa, people still out and about, despite the coronavirus emergency

Things are looking grim on various fronts of the Covid-19 pandemic

I went for a walk yesterday to the pharmacy. The closest one is a bit of a hike downtown, but I didn’t have the car and didn’t want to risk taking a taxi.

I was surprised to see quite a few people out and about, and plenty of cafes and restaurants open and only slightly less filled than they normally are.

Though restrictions have been put out for “nonessential business,” many people, and not just those whose livelihood depends on crowds, are ignoring what they consider “suggestions” from the government. I can’t help but wonder the extent to which López Obrador’s flippant attitude in the beginning has influenced the public at large.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have “news” that I can only assume is a bad joke: a declaration from Navy Secretary Rafael Ojeda that, “disciplined countries like Mexico are winning the battle against Covid-19.”

His evidence? That “… 40 intensive care beds have been prepared for Covid-19 patients at the hospital in the capitals south and that seven other navy hospitals in port cities will treat up to six patients each.” I think I speak for many here when I issue a drawn out and sarcastic “Woooooow, that many? Well, stop your worrying then, everyone!”

Dare I ask if there are medical personnel on standby to actually care for those patients? How about medicine and ventilators? Can we assume that, given the number of confirmed cases so far, they’ll be putting approximately 10 people in each bed?

Here are the facts: the numbers of Covid-19 diagnoses and deaths are growing exponentially by the day in Mexico, and are most certainly much higher than what’s reported since there are such narrow requirements for even getting tested in the first place.

According to superstar Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, patients with diabetes are 95% more likely to develop complications or die as a result of the coronavirus. As Mexico has the distinction of being one of the top countries for diabetes and obesity, things aren’t looking too good on that front.

Pair with that the fact that hospitals weren’t prepared or able to cope with the work they already had. Especially after the closure of the Seguro Popular hospitals that were replaced with an ill-planned and mostly-on-paper healthcare scheme that is actually nothing like those in Canada or Europe as promised, we seem primed for a health disaster.

Overcrowded morgues have also long been a problem in many cities in Mexico, and I fear that we will soon be facing some of the same horrific scenarios that others in Latin America have. Guayaquil, Ecuador, for example, has been unable to avoid the terror of dead bodies simply being taken out to the sidewalk since their system is simply not equipped to handle that many deaths at once.

I know that Mexicans are not known for their collective willingness to follow instructions (or stand in line, for that matter). Many right now seem to be taking the position of those who stay behind in evacuated cities waiting for the hurricane to actually not hit, and I’ve been trying hard to understand the logic behind it.

I think a part of it is simply the well-known cultural trope “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” And of course, there are those who simply believe that everything is a hoax or a conspiracy, a proposition as maddening as it is eye-roll-inducing.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist. I’m well aware that most people won’t get it, and that most of those who do will recover. But “most” people don’t need to suffer in order for our entire health and economic system to be completely overwhelmed, and we seem to be heading there fast.

It’s not all bad news. In a recent survey, almost three-fourths of Mexico City residents said they were staying home as much as possible, and hand-washing and social-distancing is up.

And although AMLO was late to the game, he finally seems to be understanding the gravity of the situation, and has wisely ceded most of his comments to the Health Ministry. (Comments on his economic plan during this time are being saved for next week’s column.)

Part of the duty of a good leader is to surround yourself with honest, competent, and principled people who are smarter than you in areas that you don’t know much about, and I hope AMLO will continue leaning in this direction in all areas.

Plus, there’s the added bonus that those folks in the Health Ministry are very good looking — perhaps that will translate to higher ratings! (I can’t decide if I have a bigger crush on López-Gatell or Dr. de la Garza. But I digress.)

I just hope it’s not too late to avoid total disaster.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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