Is Mexico ignoring WHO advice to ‘get serious’?

Walking through Mexico City it is very much business as usual: neighbourhoods are lively once again; restaurants, shops and bars are packed even on weekdays.

So it’s no wonder one of the worst hit countries in the world for Covid-19 got a ticking off from the World Health Organisation.

“The numbers of increases in cases and deaths in Mexico are very worrisome,” director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters during a recent press conference.

“When both indicators, deaths and cases, increase I think this is a very serious problem. We would like to ask Mexico to be very serious,” he added. “I think this shows that Mexico is in bad shape.”

New cases and deaths in Mexico have both doubled over the last two weeks. Coronavirus has killed over 107,000 people, the fourth highest rate in the world both in total cumulative cases and cases per million.

Coronavirus Mexico Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Mexico Spotlight Chart – Cases default

This is even as Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates globally, with 0.09 tests per thousand people (compared to 18.4 in the UK) and has been performing less tests per new confirmed case ever since the pandemic started.

When asked by reporters about WHO’s director-general remarks, Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo López-Gatell, shrugged them off.

“What he said is what he tells everyone in the world: to take the pandemic seriously,” said López-Gatell. “Tedros wasn’t telling that to me. If Tedros wanted to give that message to me, or the health secretary, or to the president, he would have maybe sent us a diplomatic cable.”

Both López-Gatell and the President have insisted on not enforcing stricter rules –even as simple as making face masks mandatory– because they claim economic impacts in a country where over half the country is below the poverty line doesn’t allow for it. Neither of them wear face masks consistently.

When it comes to choosing over protecting Mexican’s health or economy, “it’s not true that you have to choose between one or the other,” Xavier Tello, a physician, and health policy analyst, told The Telegraph. The government “could enforce lockdowns and protect the economy if only they decided to set forth relief programs for businesses. But they chose not to.”

Mexico’s President decided early in the pandemic he would not incur in debt not that he would support businesses via tax reliefs or credits. He did issue one-time subsidies for small business owners for about US$1,250 if owners could prove they didn’t fire any employees, a programme that was deemed insufficient by many. According to the International Labour Organisation, 24 million jobs (44% of all employment) in Mexico are at risk.

A worker offers hand sanitizer to customers entering a market in Mexico City - Alejandro Cegarra /Bloomberg
A worker offers hand sanitizer to customers entering a market in Mexico City – Alejandro Cegarra /Bloomberg

Luis Ramos is a gourmet grocery shop owner who had to close his doors for three months during the country’s earlier lockdown because his business was not deemed essential. He says his sales are only 50% of what they were pre-pandemic because his store is located within a district that thrives on tourism.

“I wouldn’t mind closing down again if there was an economic relief program in place,” he told The Telegraph, knowing that’s an unlikely possibility. “If only the government would enforce face mask use we could avoid locking down again.”  

López-Gatell has also insisted that imposing stricter rules is unnecessary because he claims hospital capacity is sufficient. Health authorities have increased beds with ventilators significantly in the past few months.

“Having more available beds doesn’t mean we can save more lives,” says Tello. “A bed with a ventilator is not an ICU unit, and it’s a mistake to pretend it is.” The country was short staffed even before the pandemic struck.

Tello says that’s perhaps why 9 out of 10 patients that end up connected to ventilators in the public health system, die. That’s more than twice as much the same rate in the U.S.

Source: The Telegraph



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