Severe acute respiratory infections in Mexico spiked 50% this season compared with a year ago, almost certainly all due to coronavirus, indicating that government figures for the pandemic are far too low.
This past week, health ministry data show, Mexico registered 12,000 new cases of such respiratory infections, versus 671 the same week last year.
“Of course that jump in cases is Covid-19, because influenza is on its way out this time of year,” said Alejandro Macías, the former national commissioner for influenza in Mexico during the H1N1 outbreak. “There’s no doubt.”
A top government official agreed that was likely. ”Flu monitoring continues as in every year and there’s evidence that Covid-19 has taken the place of the flu,” Dr. Jose Luis Alomia, director general of epidemiology at the health ministry, said.
Mexico is monitoring the spread of the coronavirus through a sentinel model, meaning it tests selectively and with narrow criteria. The strategy has been questioned by experts who say the country is walking “blindly through the woods” and the number of unaccounted cases will make containment harder.
The government said on Thursday that Mexico had 11,633 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,069 deaths. Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell has said his model may require the number of confirmed cases to be multiplied by 8 to get the likely full picture.
Some experts say the real multiplier could be as high as 30, which would bring the total number of cases closer to 349,000.
The gap in multipliers and the separate data sets for severe respiratory infections and coronavirus aren’t the only concerns that have been raised about Mexico’s handling of the pandemic. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spent much of March insisting that markets and shops should remain open as many in the world went into lockdown.
As for severe acute respiratory infections, the growth in cases had been mirroring past years until the week of April 5, when they jumped 17.4% to 59,440 and the week after that, when cases jumped 30% to 67,397.
“It’s very possible that those so-called cases of influenza are in reality Covid-19,” said Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta.
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