As Mexico counts its first deaths from the dreaded COVID-19 coronavirus, different but not uniform measures were implemented throughout the country in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.
Large events like the spring’s massive San Marcos National Fair in Aguascalientes (an event which attracts an estimated eight million attendees and is an economic driver of the central Mexican city) have been postponed or cancelled, gyms closed, museums and theaters shut down, masses cancelled, and public schools and universities put on extended breaks.
Cities and states have enacted varied public health rules ranging from the closure of bars and discos (Jalisco state, home of Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta) to a 50 percent reduction in customer capacity at bars and restaurants in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, bordering Dona Ana County, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
Although Juarez sits next door to New Mexico and Texas, and economic, social and cultural interactions in the borderland collectively known as the Paso del Norte are a historic daily routine, Juarez’s Phase 1 social distancing rules unveiled March 19 don’t go as far either New Mexico or Texas, both of which have ordered bars closed and restaurants restricted to take-out service.
Until now, Juarez reports four confirmed cases of COVID-19, with all of them involving young people who’d traveled outside Mexico, according to Mexican press accounts.
As of March 22, El Paso counted 9 cases of Covid-19, including 3 soldiers at the U.S. Army’s Ft. Bliss, El Paso-based media outlet KVIA reported Sunday, March 22.
In the mold of the Mexican president’s daily morning press conferences, Mexico’s Secretariat of Health is giving regular briefings on the status of COVID-19 in the country that are posted on YouTube and on Mexican media outlets like El Universal.
On March 22, the federal agency reported that the nationwide toll of COVID-19 to date included two deaths, 316 confirmed cases, 793 suspected infections and 1,667 negatives. The numbers change daily, and a sharp spike is noted after March 7.
The Mexican Response
Last week, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) announced the Mexican armed forces are being enlisted to help manage the crisis. At his March 19 morning press conference, AMLO said the armed forces count on specialists and trained nurses who can lend a hand in a time of need.
Concretely, the Mexican leader said the military is preparing a DN-III-E emergency plan to address the public health crisis. At the same time, he said the new National Guard will distribute advance payments of national pensions to elders residing in hard-to-reach places.
Sporadic medicine shortages and the overall, taxed condition of many hospitals were polemical issues in Mexico even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, but AMLO assured reporters that Mexico has enough hospital beds and medicine to weather the COVID-19 virus storm.
“We’ve prepared ourselves for some time to have the necessary infrastructure when we are confronted with a bigger demand for hospitalization and care of the sick,” AMLO said.
The days ahead will test AMLO’s optimism.
Mexico’s President was the subject of ample criticism recently after he waded into crowds and was photographed kissing a little girl on one of his frequent public appearances across the nation.
Though he has asked people to stay home as a preventative measure to contain the virus, AMLO reiterated that heavy-handed policies won’t be employed and discounted ordering a curfew.
“This is what suits us, and I am sure the people will pay attention to us,” he said. “Nothing by force. All of this is being done in a responsible way.”
In an interview with the Reforma news agency run in El Diario de Juarez on March 21, two representatives of the World Health Organization and Pan-American Health Organization in Mexico, Cristian Morales and Jean-Marc Gabastou, assessed Mexico’s preparedness and prospects for confronting the pandemic.
The two health professionals assessed the current stage of the virus outbreak in Mexico as falling within Phase 1, but credited many entities for already adopting Phase 2 measures. Morales predicted the Mexico would rapidly enter Phase 2 and then Phase 3 “probably in the next few weeks,” but that a big-and critical-unknown was how the cases would stack-up geographically.
On the plus side, Gabastou said Mexico has learned from the experience of other countries, possesses “high quality technology and very well prepared personnel,” and has sufficient testing capacity at this time.
Gabastou and Morales expressed concern about the exposure of senior baggers at big box stores like Walmart who work only for tips, and contended that the country’s high rates of diabetes and obesity could contribute to elevating the number of deaths from COVID-19.
Will the junk food diet that became so implanted in Mexico during recent decades now come back to bite the country in a big way?
While AMLO maintains that Mexico has sufficient financial reserves to overcome COVID-19, the emergency is already slamming the economy, with the peso hitting historic lows in relation to the dollar, tax revenue earning oil plummeting to its lowest price in 21 years, the Mexican Stock Exchange tanking, and auto plants closing.
Moreover, the record remittances sent home by migrant Mexican workers in the U.S. during the past couple of years will surely plunge amid the mass layoffs now sweeping El Norte.
The U.S.-Mexican decision to close border travel to all but “essential” purposes, is very bad news for U.S. border cities like El Paso, where Mexican shoppers account for a large chunk of the city’s retail sales revenues.
Scattered accounts of price-gouging and panic buying similar to the U.S. have appeared in the Mexican press, touching such places as Mexico City and Mexico state. Earlier this month, in Ciudad Juarez, desperate shoppers from El Paso were blamed for helping strip store shelves in Juarez’s big box stores of such essentials as paper products.
The emerging economic crisis gravely jeopardizes the key tourism sector, a business which represents nearly 9 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product- and at one of the most inconvenient moments of the year.
When the crisis struck, Mexicans were preparing for their annual Holy Week-Easter tourism pilgrimages to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and other beach destinations that stay afloat from the tourism economy.
“The lights of a city that lives by night are starting to turn off, an unusual and historic development that will drastically impact the economy of distinct sectors of society, where the immense majority live day by day,” editorialized El Sol de Acapulco.