Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Shawwal 20, 1443 H
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Mexico confronts the coronavirus

Patrick J McDonnell

It was time for a break, Marisela Perez decided, a chance to ditch concerns about masks and social-distancing and the pervasive fear of infection. She and her husband gathered up the couple’s two children, aged 10 and 6, and drove last weekend to Acapulco.

“My kids are stuck at home all day, doing their classes online, never getting out, “ said Perez, 37, a cosmetics salesperson. “I see them angry, full of anxiety. How is that possible? They are only kids! So we took them to the beach. I haven’t seen them this happy in months.”

Last Thursday, Mexico passed a doleful milestone: The country’s pandemic death toll topped 100,000. Only the United States, Brazil and India have more. Five days earlier, Mexico recorded infection number 1 million. Mexico ranks 11th on the global infection list, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the true number of deaths here is considerably higher, officials concede, because Mexico lags most other countries in testing. Many virus-related fatalities have been attributed to other causes, health authorities say.

There were no memorial ceremonies to mark the latest metrics of calamity. Rather, surging case numbers and shrinking hospital bed space have forced new restrictions for restaurants, shopping centres, gyms and other venues in Mexico City and elsewhere.

The 100,000 marker spurred a renewed wave of criticism against a president whose government has eschewed mandatory lockdowns and curfews, stressed voluntary compliance with mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines, and discounted virus testing and contact tracing.

Headlines highlighted the official “failure” in a nation where, as in the United States, the pandemic has become thoroughly politicised. In response, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-wing populist, assailed conservative “vultures” for partisan weaponising of a calamity.

“From the beginning, they wanted to use the misfortune of the Mexican people in this pandemic to blame us,” the president said. “It’s obvious.”

Past governments, he noted, had left a hollowed-out health network, short on hospitals, equipment and physicians.

The system had to be rebuilt on the fly, he said, as the pandemic swept across Mexico. Still, he asserted, the country’s emergency response had “yielded results,” noting that Mexico’s known death rate of 79 persons per 100,000 persons places the country 10th on the global list, according to Johns Hopkins figures. Belgium is first with a death rate of 133 per 100,000. Peru tops the Americas with 110 deaths per 100,000.

The United States ranks 13th with 77 deaths per 100,000. Regardless of the numbers, Mexicans continue to get sick and die, and cases are spiking again. People fret not only about their physical health, but also their psychological well-being — and that of their children.

In-school learning has been shut down since the spring. “Of course the coronavirus scares me, but I’m also concerned about the mental health of my kids — no school, not being able to see their friends, missing recreational activities,” said Perez, the mother of two who decamped to Acapulco last weekend with her family. — dpa

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