Mexico begins pilot reopening program amid widespread misgivings

By Jose de Jesus Cortes and Pedro Pablo Cortes

Ejutla de Crespo/Mexico City, May 18 (efe-epa).- The Mexican government on Monday began its much-touted “new normal” phase, an economic reactivation plan that includes a pilot program for more than 300 municipalities without any confirmed coronavirus cases but which is plagued with doubts and misgivings among local leaders, who note that the country is now facing a critical stage of the pandemic.

The launching of the strategy comes after four consecutive days with more than 2,000 newly confirmed Covid-19 cases each day, thus bringing Mexico to almost 50,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,000 deaths in the two-and-a-half months since the pandemic hit this country.

Mexico, in fact, has registered more deaths than China, where the coronavirus was first detected in late December.

Although the four-phase program will start on June 1 with specifically authorized activities in each of Mexico’s 32 states, the federal government for now will allow “municipalities of hope” to begin reopening, that designation being used for zones where no coronavirus cases have been detected and which do not border on other territories where cases have been identified.

Of the 324 municipalities included in the original plan, 213 of them are in the southern state of Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest areas and with a significant Indian population.

Among those towns is Ejutla de Crespo – 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital of Oaxaca city – where municipal authorities allowed businesses to reopen on the city squares and at markets, these activities constituting the main economic pursuits of the town’s more than 7,000 residents.

On a tour of the town, EFE witnessed the activities associated with the gradual reopening, although there are still certain restrictions, but people here have been been going for more than a month without any income.

One of them is Itzeol, who sells fruits and vegetables on the town’s main square.

Despite the fact that there are more people out on the streets now, Itzel said that the situation is far from getting back to normal because many shoppers who live in nearby villages are not coming here because they lack facemasks and/or hand sanitizer, the use of both of which is obligatory.

Pedro Altamirano, a shoeshiner who was disinfecting his shoe stand in a local park, said something similar.

“To have bleach on your hand, you need money,” he said. The city hall admitted that, although no local Covid-19 cases have cropped up, the normalization will not be completed by May 30.

“We can’t rely on it because it’s like baseball: the game’s not over until the last out,” the top town official, Leonardo Diaz, told EFE, adding that “Many people stayed at home and today the word is that we’re on the home stretch and need to redouble our efforts.”

The measures have not been eased at the two main entrance points to the town, at one of which a sanitary checkpoint has been set up.

Local authorities stop each vehicle coming into the town to provide the driver and passengers with disinfectant, to question them as to why they’re coming to town and to spray the vehicle with bleach and water.

Despite the fact that the state is one of those least-affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Alejandro Murat said in a recent video that the region is now in the “yellow phase” and will go through it gradually until things are completely reactivated, although school classes have not actually resumed yet.

When the plan was announced on May 13, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that it would be “voluntary,” and – if local authorities decided on a different course – there would be no reprisals by Mexico City.

And so far that is the case, with several states taking different tacks on Monday. For instance, the western state of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s economic engines, implemented its own “Phase Zero” plan, delaying any reactivation until June 1.

In accord with that plan, vulnerable people are remaining isolated, facemasks are obligatory in public places, there are specific safety and protection protocols that must be followed in businesses and fines are levied for violations.

Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro, with the opposition Citizens Movement, said that his region will not implement even a partial reopening because he considers allowing there to be “territorial differentiation” is “a mistake.”

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