The federal government had data that should have triggered an immediate shutdown in early December. Instead, it kept Mexico City open for another two weeks.
MEXICO CITY (Times Media Mexico) – According to The New York Times, federal authorities withheld vital information about the pandemic. In an article in the newspaper, in early December, the pandemic was once again raging in Mexico City: after declining during the summer, the coronavirus was spreading rapidly, hospitalizations were increasing, and respirators were running out.
Despite the increase, federal officials reassured the public during a December 4 briefing that Mexico City had not reached the critical level of contagion that would force the closure of its economy by the government’s standards.
According to its official figures, Mexico’s capital had surpassed that threshold, an analysis by The New York Times found. However, officials kept Mexico City’s businesses open, and its streets were crowded with shoppers, the restaurants full of diners.
Mexico decides when to put the nation’s capital and each of its states in lockdown according to a formula that considers the latest numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. When the government introduced the system, officials told Mexicans that it would be a transparent and objective measure of the virus’s spread.
But in making that calculation for Mexico City in early December, the government used lower figures in two critical areas-the percentage of hospital beds with ventilators that were occupied and the rate of positive coronavirus test results-than those publicly indicated in its official databases. In repeated requests to comment on this article, government officials did not explain where the inexplicably lower figures came from.
The result was that Mexico’s capital, with nine million residents, kept business open in the busy weeks of early December. It is now in a deep crisis.
In early December, the city repeatedly broke its own records for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
The government finally decided to close the city last Friday. By then, the capital’s hospitals were already overflowing. Last week new records were set one after another for the number of patients hospitalized since the pandemic began.
Overwhelmed doctors began posting desperate pleas on social networks, urging Mexicans to stay home and warning that beds were running out. They are running out of drugs to sedate patients and specialists to treat them.
Federal health authorities did not respond to the requests for comments. The Mexico City government referred to recent public statements by the city’s chief, Claudia Sheinbaum, who said her government had avoided a shutdown because “this time of year is very important in terms of families’ economy.
Unlike many world leaders, the Mexican president has not implemented a stimulus program to support businesses and the unemployed during the pandemic. Without a safety net, Mexico City’s closure in the middle of the Christmas shopping season would inflict considerable damage on the nation’s economy.
However, allowing Mexico City residents to pile into stores, eat inside restaurants and work in their offices for two weeks when the virus was known to be spreading rapidly has increased the burden on an already strained public health system, experts say.
More than 85 percent of hospital beds in the capital were occupied on Sunday, according to federal data, compared to 66 percent when the government decided to delay confinement.
Rejected by public hospitals and unable to pay for private clinics, a growing number of Mexicans are dying at home. Patients’ relatives line up for hours outside medical stores waiting to buy oxygen for their loved ones fighting the virus in their beds.
Health care workers are also dying: more doctors, nurses, and technicians have died of coronavirus in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.
To determine when to limit economic activity in each state and the capital, the Mexican government established a system that considers ten parameters of hospitalizations, infections, and deaths.
Risk levels were labeled according to the colors of Mexican traffic lights:
- Green meant low numbers.
- Orange indicated higher risk and some restrictions.
- Red indicated a widespread outbreak requiring the closure of all non-essential businesses.
The calculation assigns a certain number of points to each indicator, depending on its severity. When the sum of all points adds up to more than 31 in the state or the country’s capital, a red light comes. That triggers a shutdown.
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the undersecretary of health who leads the national response to the coronavirus, had said at a press conference that the traffic light system is an “objective instrument” and that it “is not subject to negotiation.”
But in its early December calculation, the government used two numbers that were lower than official figures published elsewhere, according to federal documents reviewed by the Times.
In a Dec. 4 document signed by Lopez-Gatell notifying Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s head of government, about the risk calculation, the federal government claimed that only 45 percent of hospital beds with ventilators were full. But earlier, Lopez-Gatell published an official graph indicating that 58 percent of the beds with ventilators were occupied, well above the level that should have added a point to the city’s traffic light total.
A review of the government’s database to calculate risk shows that the occupancy of hospital beds with ventilators in Mexico City had not fallen below 50 percent since early November.
The document that López-Gatell sent to Sheinbaum also stated that 25 percent of the city’s coronavirus tests were positive at the end of November. But the federal government’s official data shows that more than 35 percent of the tests were positive during that period.
If the government had used the higher figures in both cases, the city’s total points would have reached 33, triggering a red light warning and requiring a shutdown.
Instead, government officials insisted that the city was at moderate risk – orange, according to its traffic light system – and no need for stricter sanitary measures.
That announcement was received with shock by doctors throughout Mexico City, who could not balance the government’s assessment with the demand they saw in hospitals, which were busier than in May during the first peek of the pandemic.
López-Gatell has recently tried to minimize the importance of the traffic light system he created and championed. During the two weeks the city was open, López-Gatell, at his press conferences, dispelled doubts about why the town was not at risk level red. “As far as color is concerned, it’s somewhat inconsequential,” he said, a week before the city was finally closed.
The city’s head of government, for her part, could have broken with the federal government and put the town in isolation sooner. But such a move would have been politically risky. Sheinbaum has close ties to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is more interested in other matters than the pandemic.
Claudia Sheinbaum also made it clear that she did not want confinement in the capital. “We are doing everything in our power,” she said recently, “everything everything absolutely everything so that we don’t have to reach a situation where we have to shut down all activities.” (SIC)
Yet… Here we are. Mexico City in shutdown, thousands of people dying every day due to AMLO, who has downplayed the situation from the beginning, the poor handling of the pandemic by Lopez Gatell, the Federal Government, and Claudia Sheinbaum political ambitions.”