Mexico celebrates Christmas without more restrictions as Omicron spreads

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Dec 21 (EFE).- The Mexican government on Tuesday said that there has been “a sustained reduction” in the Covid-19 pandemic in recent weeks, with just 23 cases of the Omicron variant detected nationwide so far, and thus Christmas will be celebrated without the need for greater restrictions although some other nations are implementing severe lockdowns.

Although in Mexico more than 70 percent of the recent Covid-19 cases have been identified as the Omicron variant, the Mexican government has only confirmed that 23 people have contracted that strain since Dec. 3, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the official tasked with managing the pandemic, said.

“They have mild symptoms. None has been hospitalized for health reasons. The only one was the initial case that we announced a couple of weeks ago who was hospitalized voluntarily to prevent contagion, (and) they did not infect anyone,” said the epidemiologist at the daily press conference at the National Palace.

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, Mexico has experienced more than 3.93 million Covid-19 cases and almost 300,000 deaths, as per the official count, the fourth largest figure in the world.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has suggested that authorities “cancel or postpone” December gatherings given the spread of Omicron and the continued prevalence of the Delta variant, due to which a number of European nations – along with certain regions in Brazil and the United States – have implemented increased restrictions.

A canceled event is better than a canceled life, said the WHO chief, adding that it’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and mourn later.

But Lopez-Gatell, the undersecretary for Prevention and Health Promotion, ruled out that the WHO leader’s remarks applied to Mexico, where the government in the capital has been criticized for allowing a Christmas fair to take place on the huge central square – the Zocalo – which tens of thousands of people attend each day.

“It’s common that from the press conferences given by the World Health Organization director … the media in Mexico and other parts of the world take excerpts that, at times, are out of context,” he said.

Lopez-Gatell said that Mexico is continuing to see a downward trend in the prevalence of the Delta variant after the third pandemic wave reached its peak in July and August.

He said that just 14 percent of regular beds at Mexico’s hospitals were occupied along with only 11 percent of the intensive care unit beds, adding that there are “only” about 15,000 active cases of Covid-19 being monitored in the country at present, which includes anyone showing symptoms within the past two weeks.

“What we’re seeing up to now is a declining trend, which has been sustained now for several months, but of course we’re always remaining vigilant for a possible change in this trend,” he said.

The Mexico government also said that it is in the No. 7 spot among nations worldwide for raw numbers of vaccine doses administered, reporting 146.8 million anti-Covid vaccine doses given to 81.9 million people, of whom 72.2 million have been fully vaccinated.

“This week, we’re marking one year since the first shipment of vaccines. More than 195 million doses have arrived, more than 81 million people have been vaccinated and more than 54 million doses have been packaged in Mexico,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

The Mexican government, after initial resistance, this month has begun administering booster shots for seniors.

But as wealthy nations administer Pfizer and Modern boosters, which are RNA vaccines that have demonstrated their efficacy against Omicron, Mexico is administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In addition, the foreign minister said that the country’s contracts with AstraZeneca, Sinovac and CanSino have run out and it is on the verge of finalizing a contract with Pfizer, although he provided no further details.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has called for volunteers on whom the National Science and Technology Council (Conacyt) intends to test the Patria vaccine, which is being developed in Mexico, and he has said that the US will donate doses to the country.

“The Moderna pharmaceutical company is offering to donate more than one million doses,” he said.

The president also promised that Mexico “will continue supporting” Latin America with donations to Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

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