The authorities said it, and now it’s happening. This is going to be a rough next several months.
The combination of circumstances has been brutal: a more tired, more desperate and much poorer citizenry; floundering businesses fighting to stay open because the other option is to close forever and knock a bunch of workers into poverty while they’re at it; colder weather keeping more people inside together; a new, more easily spreadable Covid strain that is for sure already in Mexico; hospitals quickly filling up with not enough equipment or space to attend to them, with staff whose emotional crises I can’t even begin to imagine; a dismally low testing rate; an illness that’s now spreading like wildfire because, new strain or not, the more people catch it, the more people catch it.
People were already tired of the pandemic and its restrictions at the end of March. They were also tired of it at the end of July and at the end of October. By the time the holidays rolled around, they were really sick of it, and many could simply not resist the pull of tradition paired with a desire to gather with their families and friends. Heck, even the head of our coronavirus task force went to the beach.
All right, he shouldn’t have. It’s not that I approve, but really — I doubt the majority of us are in any position to be casting stones on others for their unsafe or hypocritical behavior. The difference with Hugo Lopez-Gatell is that he’s a well-known, recognizable public figure who just days before had encouraged people not do precisely what he ended up doing. Yes, that was hypocritical, which unfortunately is a very human trait no matter how good we try to be. You’d think he’d at least have worn a disguise or something.
In fact, let’s take a moment out of this despair-filled diatribe to grin as we picture him at the beach in dark glasses and one of those Rasta tams with fake dreadlocks hanging down from it, and maybe a fake mustache. (Really, do it.)
Okay, that’s done! I don’t know about you, but I could always use a laugh these days.
Now, back to where we were: remember, beaches and resorts were and are open for business. If the rule is “don’t leave for unnecessary travel,” then close the places we’re able to unnecessarily travel to. Water flows to where it can, yo. And you know what we’re mostly made of, right?
Of course, those pictures of him at the beach were enough to trigger the resignation of several doctors right when we need them the most. Other doctors have resigned out of exhaustion, and more still in protest over a lack of necessary equipment to do their jobs.
I don’t blame our medical personnel; they’re basically being asked literally to be Jesus Christ right now, and have been, one could argue, even since before the pandemic started. I was struck by their plea last week: “If you come into ICU, you will die.”
So the optics on Lopez-Gatell’s trip were not fantastic, and the doctors have a right to be angry. The optics aren’t great on President López Obrador either, who still seems not to see the point of wearing a mask or taking any precautions at all.
In fact, we’ve all got a right to be angry. And people directing that anger toward a government that sends mixed signals about what’s safe and what’s not and that refuses to give desperately needed financial support that could tide its people through this crisis seems like a pretty natural consequence of such behavior.
People do need guidance on what to do and how to behave until we finally get the vaccine to most people, and I think Lopez-Gatell and the Ministry of Health have done a fairly good job at it. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. As I said last week, 45% of the population is in poverty and counting. And, sure, Mexico will come out with the lowest budget deficit in Latin America at the end of this, but so what?
Seeing restaurant owners and workers demanding to be allowed to work made me hang my head in sorrow and frustration. It’s not that they’re dying to serve people hamburgers and enchiladas because that’s their favorite thing in the world to do. It’s that there’s been no help. The kind of willful blindness that I only experience in my most frustrating dreams is currently ever-present.
“Restaurants are a source of jobs, not infections!” is the owners’ rallying cry. Well, I’d change that to “and infections,” which is not a moral judgment but rather an epidemiological fact.
But the question I’ve repeated over and over, to myself and to others throughout the pandemic, is this: “What do they expect people to do?”
Until most of the population is vaccinated, there are going to be many more illnesses and deaths. And until the economy can get rolling again, I fear crimes of desperation will also increase.
Hold tight, people. We’ve got some punches to roll with.
Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.