Mexico City periphery, where quarantine is not an option

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Ecatepec de Morelos, Mexico, Apr 19 (efe-epa).- Ecatepec is not Mexico City. Here, life doesn’t run on a two-week schedule, or even a month-long schedule. “Living for the moment” is the slogan of many of its residents, like Maria Teresa, a cleaning worker for whom remaining in quarantine for two months isn’t an option.

“Here, we cope with things. I keep working and my husband also, while my children are at home. We’re people who live day to day, so we have to work,” Maria Teresa – who lives in Mexico’s second-most-populated city, adjacent to the national capital – told EFE.

She’s perfectly well aware of the risks of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in 7,497 confirmed cases and 650 deaths in the country so far, and thus she doesn’t intend to deviate from the route that she takes between her home and work.

Her husband, an industrial painter, has a different situation. He’s one of the 2.5 million people who jams himself into the capital Metro each day to get to work despite the pandemic, many of the riders coming from the towns and cities in the greater capital area, like Ecatepec.

In these surrounding towns, many people listen to – but don’t, or can’t, abide by – the daily sermons of “Stay at home” repeated endlessly on television by Health Undersecretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell.

Although the government has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and has asked the public to remain in their homes, more than 50 million poor Mexicans can’t do that because they simply have to earn a living.

But many others have also been ignoring the quarantine purely for leisure and recreational purposes. “They closed the park because people didn’t understand, there were people there on the weekends,” Maria Teresa said.

Although Ecatepec is part of the same urban zone as Mexico City with a total of some 20 million people, here there are no multinationals’ skyscrapers and businesses cannot have their employees work from home.

Mario Alvarez manages a small factory that makes trash bags. No official has told him whether or not his company is considered essential or not, but the firm is still operating with its 20 workers.

“People are really scared of losing their jobs, they could stay at home but you’d be without anything to eat. They much prefer to be working,” Mario said.

This week, local authorities closed a gymnasium and a dance school. They aren’t essential, but on the main business streets clothing stores are still open, although they – like grocery stores – have seen a big falloff in customers.

“It’s affected us. Now there are almost no customers … But we live day to day and I can’t close down,” said Bartolo, a baker who is meeting his customers’ desires to celebrate birthdays – for instance – with a cake, even though they are under lockdown.

Juan Carlos, a mototaxi driver, says that his income has plummeted by 70 percent, and even the historic drop in the gasoline price has not helped him any.

“The fact that the gas (price) has fallen has nothing to do with work. … My family has to eat with or without the disease,” he said.

In Mexico state, the region where most of the cities in the greater capital area are located, there are almost 800 confirmed coronavirus cases and 52 people have died.

Knowing that the situation can get a lot worse because of the poverty that prevails in the zone, state authorities have recommended that people wear face coverings during the pandemic, but seeing someone wearing a mask in Ecatepec is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Edgar sells chickens from a plastic table set up in a parking lot. He said that his boss still hasn’t been able to buy facemasks or hand sanitizer gel.

Relatives of his who work in a hospital told him about the virus, and so Edgar was on the verge of acquiring his own mask, but something caused him to reconsider: “People who see me are going to think ‘We’d better buy from someone else.’ I see that people are too afraid,” he said.

Running rampant among the small businessmen in Ecatepec are theories and rumors that the virus doesn’t exist, that it’s a political invention, that it’s some kind of biowarfare agent from the Cold War.

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