Although Mexico weathers the Omicron surge, experts warn against relaxing measures

“This variant of COVID doesn’t have the lethality, the danger of the previous variant, the so-called Delta,” a smiling President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared in a video last week.

After he came down with a cough and his doctor recommended he be screened for COVID-19, Alejandro Cruz Esteban spent three days standing in long lines trying to get a coronavirus test.

By the time he finally got one, he already felt much better and was no longer worried that he had the virus.

Instead, he was worried that he didn’t have it.

“If I’m negative, how am I going to justify missing days of work?” wondered the 49-year-old retail clerk and father of three.

Mexico, like much of the world, is experiencing a record spike in coronavirus cases as a result of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

But compared to the surge last January, which overwhelmed ICUs and cemeteries, spawned a black market for oxygen and killed Cruz’s father, this latest phase of the pandemic has so far taken a much milder toll on Mexico.

Long lines for tests have supplanted packed hospital wards as the signature image of Mexico’s current incarnation of the virus, which many here say feels less like a death threat than a nuisance.

Many people are missing work or school as infections and fear spread. The newspaper El Universal estimated that as many as 15% of employees in public transport, manufacturing, and other sectors may be off the job in Mexico City.

But deaths and hospitalizations are nowhere near their high points.

“This variant of COVID doesn’t have the lethality, the danger of the previous variant, the so-called Delta,” a smiling President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared in a video address last week after disclosing that he had recuperated from a second bout of coronavirus with nothing more than Vicks VapoRub and other over-the-counter cold remedies.

“This variant produces very mild symptoms, the equivalent of a flu,” he said. ” … I’m very pleased because it means that this pandemic is on its way out.”

Experts said that is wishful thinking.

While they credit widespread vaccination — with rates comparable to those in the United States — for reducing serious illness and death, they warn that the situation is likely to become far more dire as the country comes to experience the full impact of the current wave.

“Those who consider the Omicron variant as just a little cold are mistaken,” Dr. Alejandro Macias, an infectious disease specialist who led Mexico’s response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, said this week on Twitter. “There will still be more cases and more deaths. Hospitals and intensive care [wards] will still be filling up.”

On Wednesday, Mexico logged 60,552 new coronavirus cases, breaking the record of 49,343 set a day earlier.

Hospitalizations have risen in recent weeks, but nationwide hospitals are only 37% full — far shy of the the 61% level reached a year ago. In Mexico City, more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

As for deaths, the official daily average during the past week is about 193 — up from mid-December, but less than a fifth of last year’s daily peak of more than 1,000,



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