Americans continue visiting Mexico despite pandemic risks.

Photo by: Mexico tourism

According to the NPR news agency, Mexico remains one of the preferred places for Americans to travel, despite the risks associated with the pandemic.

MEXICO (NPR) – U.S. tourists aren’t welcome in most countries worldwide because of the high number of coronavirus cases surging in the United States. But at least one country is keeping its borders open: Mexico. And many Americans, keen to escape the cold or lockdowns, are flocking to its stunning beaches. Writes NPR in an article dated December 25, 2020. 

Sharlea Watkins and her friends were interviewed while having beers at a restaurant overlooking the city’s marina. There were in Cabo San Lucas, one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations. They point out at the wonders of the weather: “And it’s warm,” she added. Back in Boise, Idaho, where all the friends live, it has been in the 30s. And the months indoors have been harsh”… “There are no restrictions. It’s beautiful. We feel safe,” she said.

However, perhaps miss Watkins, and her friends do not realize that currently, Mexico has the fourth-highest death total from COVID-19 globally and is experiencing a surge in infections and hospitalizations in the capital and its surrounding suburbs. 

Despite that and fast-rising case numbers in other countries like the United States, Mexico doesn’t require travelers to prove a negative coronavirus test or quarantine upon arrival.

According to the article, two of Watkins’ friends decided to get married, and wedding venues in the U.S. were closed because of the pandemic, so the group went south of the border. One of the couple’s friends was performing the nuptials. “I’m an ordained minister, ordained through the Internet,” said NPR. The couple is to read the vows out on a rented boat beside Los Cabos’ signature landmark rock-arch formation.

Tourism officials are cheering the return of tourists, especially those from the United States. Figures available show nearly half a million Americans arrived in Mexico by plane.

Early on in the pandemic, in late March, Los Cabos shut down entirely. With nearly 80% of jobs in the region dependent on tourism, the losses were enormous.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, tourism lost more jobs than any other industry. Nearly a third of all businesses in Baja California Sur, the state where Los Cabos is located, closed down.

In late November, a warning by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising Americans against travel to Mexico seemed to threaten even more significant job loss.

There have also been news reports that American tourists could have contributed to coronavirus outbreaks in Mexico.

Los Cabos officials insist they have instituted strict safety protocols, which they tout in ads running on several travel websites. In one example, an announcer declares that “before you visit, get to know the rules in Los Cabos,” with a frame highlighting mask-wearing that shows a woman snorkeling among fish. Another frame plugs self-distancing rules with an enticing scene of a lone surfer in vast blue waters.

The state’s tourism secretary, Luis Humberto Araiza, says safety does come first. Hotels and restaurants are limited to 50% capacity, visitors’ temperatures are taken before entering any stores, and masks are mandatory. Police and inspectors monitor the situation, he insists.

Eric Santillán, director of Los Cabos’ civil protection agency, says his agency has sanctioned several hotels and at least eight restaurants for exceeding capacity limits. Just this month, he says, one event hall was slapped with a hefty fine totaling about $4,000. But he admits that with only six inspectors per shift, it’s tough to patrol much of Los Cabos’ resorts and restaurants.

Officials are also helping pay for widespread testing of industry employees, making the state second only to Mexico City for coronavirus testing, says Araiza.

“We aren’t invincible. Sure, you can get infected, but the risk here is much less than in other places,” he says. Virus cases did spike after that. Authorities began to lift restriction measures in June gradually.

Dr. Enrique Hernández, a trauma specialist in Los Cabos, got COVID-19 back then and says he saw many colleagues die. “It’s frustrating seeing tourists and locals alike being irresponsible and not wearing masks now,” he said.

Throughout the country and especially in Mexico City, hospitals are reaching capacity, and deaths are rising.

Regardless, many people in Cabo and other touristic areas in Mexico hope travelers keep coming since after the lockdown earlier this year. The tourism industry has nearly gone into bankruptcy.

Read NPR’s article here

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