Mexican city gets serious about masking

By Ines Amarelo

Ecatepec, Mexico, Jan 21 (EFE).- The fire rescue department in this Mexico City suburb of 1.8 million inhabitants has established a special unit, the Covid-19 Cell, to enforce the municipality’s recent decision to make mask-wearing compulsory in public.

“The cell is an organism with which we share important information about Covid-19. But we also see to it that residents participate, in the sense that they wear their masks correctly, and we also give them other recommendation,” department head Victoria Arriaga tells Efe.

Though some people run away, others put on masks when they encounter the cell team – easily spotted in their green safety vests – as they conduct enforcement in the area of the Ecatepec city hall.

“It’s a question of being aware to take safety measures, as quite a few lives were lost last year. This is perfect for us to take measures, and it says that they are taking care of us,” Francisco says while waiting for one of the vans that constitute the main form of public transportation here.

The city council approved on Jan. 12 a proposal from Mayor Fernando Vilchis to create the Covid-19 cell and to give its members partial police powers.

Residents who refuse to heed instructions from cell members can be “sentenced” to five hours of community service or even detained for up to eight hours.

So far, only one person has been detained for flouting the mask regulation, though another man not only rejected the instruction to put on a mask but hurled insults at the cell members.

“The fact that they make it obligatory is good because ultimately, it is protection for everybody. You take care of yourself and you take care of others,” a young woman named Erika says.

Mexico is fifth in the world in deaths from Covid-19, with more than 302,000 fatalities, and has 4.54 million confirmed cases.

Amid a fourth wave of the pandemic due to the Omicron variant, hospitalizations and deaths are not increasing at the same rate as infections.

Isabel, an Ecatepec resident who has survived a bout with coronavirus, praised mandatory masking and the work of the Covid-19 Cell, though she suggests that it is late in the crisis for such measures to be implemented.

“If this had existed from the start, it would have been perfect,” she says, expressing concern that too many people have “lost the fear” of Covid-19.

The inhabitants say that since the Covid-19 Cell deployed, they see fewer people going without masks. EFE ia/dr

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