Mexican president sick with Covid, Mexico sick of disinformation

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Jan 31 (efe-epa).- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spent the past week sick with Covid-19, his health status being kept largely secret by the government in the country with the world’s third-largest death toll from the disease.

“The government has not handled the information about the president’s health correctly and, thus, has unnecessarily sparked rumors and uncertainty,” political consultant Edgar Ortiz Arellano, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told EFE.

After revealing his positive test for the coronavirus last Sunday, Lopez Obrador on Monday posted online a photo of him speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin with an eye toward gaining access for Mexico to Moscow’s Sputnik V anti-Covid vaccine.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who is tasked with managing the pandemic in Mexico, said at the time that the government would not release “any clinical data … during the president’s recovery period (because that) concerns his privacy.”

The silence surrounding the leftist leader’s illness, given that he regularly controls the media agenda with his daily press conferences and messages posted to the social networks, sparked conspiracy theories about whether he was really sick and concern over his health status.

“I still have Covid, but the doctors are already telling me the critical stage is passing. Now, I’m appearing before you so that there will be no rumors (or) misunderstandings. I’m OK although I still have to get my rest,” the president said in a video released by the National Palace on Friday, the only message he has publicly broadcast since his Covid diagnosis.

But Ortiz Arellano said he thinks that a better way to dampen down the rumors would be with “well-supported” medical information telling “what the precise condition” of the president is.

“It’s not enough for the president to come out in a video. It seems more like a propaganda event than a responsible government action. That is, it’s like a proof-of-life video to quiet the rumors,” he said.

So far, the latest update has been provided by Ricardo Cortes, the general director of Health Promotion within the Health Secretariat, who on Saturday confirmed that Lopez Obrador “continues to have a rather slight case” of Covid and now is midway through the mandatory 14-day isolation period.

Ortiz Arellano said the government has created an “information gap” by not designating a spokesman to provide details of the condition of the president, who in Mexico is also commander of the armed forces.

“The issue of the president’s health is a national security matter. The president of the republic, in Mexico’s case, is the head of state and the head of government. He had a double responsibility, so it’s a public matter,” the professor said.

Lopez Obrador’s illness at a time when Mexico has exceeded 1.85 million confirmed Covid cases and 158,000 deaths, with the country this past week surpassing India as the nation with the third-largest death toll.

“We’re at a very crucial point. The president has already been infected and that should be a good time to change, so that we can still avoid many deaths because as long as we don’t have the vaccine, and we’re not going to have it soon, the pandemic will continue increasing,” public health specialist Carolina Gomez told EFE.

But the president said in his video that he will not change the management of the crisis, as some critics have been hoping.

“We’re trying to continue with the same strategy and strengthen it, which consists – right from the start – of nobody lacking a (hospital) bed and enough doctors, nurses and equipment. No lack of medicines in the Covid hospitals. Fortunately, events have not overtaken us,” she said.

Gomez, an expert with the Mexican Society for Public Health, lamented the message the president sent to the public.

“He’s telling me very little. Moreover, he’s telling me that nothing’s changed. He spoke about vaccines, that we have to take care of ourselves, be happy, enjoy life, very banal things and not concerned with public health or with sending a comprehensive message that would calm things down,” she said.

She also agreed that the illness of the president – who is in a higher risk group because he’s 67 years old, suffers from hypertension and has experienced heart attacks – is a matter of national security.

Therefore, Gomez criticized the fact that Lopez Obrador continues to minimize the effects of the coronavirus on himself and on the nation.

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