Mexico: Covid-19 pandemic peak to come next week, end in October

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Jun 11 (efe-epa).- The Mexican government believes that the Covid-19 pandemic will reach its peak, in terms of new daily cases, next week – although it will persist in certain areas until October – and declared itself “prepared” to deal with a potential new wave of infections toward the end of 2020.

“We began in February, we’ll end in October and we might say that in the middle of June we’ll be at the middle of the set of epidemic curves,” Mexico’s undersecretary for prevention and health promotion, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, tasked with leading the fight against the pandemic here, told EFE.

According to the latest figures, Mexico registered a new daily total of 4,883 confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and has already detected more than 129,000 cases nationwide, with 15,357 people having died of Covid-19 since the virus hit the country on Feb. 28.

Mexican authorities had announced that the peak of the pandemic would occur in early May, but Lopez-Gatell said that that date was valid only in the Mexico City metro area, which has been the epicenter of the health crisis here.

He emphasized that in a large country such as Mexico one cannot forecast a single peak in the curves because “the epidemic is divided” by regions, although he said that “an intermediate point could occur in mid-June.”

In cities like Tijuana the pandemic’s twin curves are on the decline, while infections in Monterrey are still on the rise and that city might have to wait until mid-October to declare an end to the epidemic.

Lopez-Gatell, who each day holds a press conference on the health crisis, said that the pandemic “has become slower thanks to the (government’s) mitigation measures,” allowing the country to avoid “the sudden arrival of a large number of cases,” which could overwhelm the health care system.

“Only if the degree of control over public mobility is maintained for the coming three months will the predictions be accurate and possibly we’ll have a figure of between 25,000 and 30,000 deaths. If not, we could have greater mortality,” he warned.

This prediction surpasses the most optimistic forecasts made by the government at the beginning of the crisis – namely, that between 6,000 and 8,000 people would die, a level that has already been exceeded.

Lopez-Gatell said that the situation has not gotten out of control. “We haven’t had to make decisions that skirt the limits of ethics, like deciding to keep a person off a ventilator because it’s someone else’s turn. I can safely say that we’re preventing deaths,” he said.

After closing down the non-essential economy in April and May, the federal government on June 1 announced the start of the “new normal” by opening some industries, although it called on the public to remain at home because the “maximum risk” of infection still prevailed in all 32 states.

Claims from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that “the pandemic has been defeated” and Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer that the epidemic “is on the decline” have confused the public by suggesting that the quarantine has been relaxed, although it has never been stringently enforced because millions of poor people working in the informal economy must go out to earn a living somehow or starve.

Although Lopez-Gatell did not contradict his superiors, noting that it’s true that in certain areas the new daily case numbers are declining, he did admit that the government has “significant communications challenges,” above all regarding the easing of movement restrictions.

The death totals in Mexico have sparked controversy because patients who have died after being tested for Covid-19 but before the results were available have not been counted for the week it takes to get the results, while there is an unknown number of “suspected” Covid-19 deaths, although the people were never tested and thus do not figure in the coronavirus totals.

Lopez-Gatell said that authorities are working to determine “unobserved mortality statistics,” although he said that improving medical care is more important than obtaining precise death figures.

“It would be irresponsible to devote efforts at this time to this kind of exercise when we have to attend to other elements,” he said by way of justification.

And he also cast doubt on journalistic investigative work that has estimated that mortality in Mexico City is three times greater than the official figures show.

Yet, he has also been very critical of the idea of testing large numbers of people saying that it’s more effective to track serious cases and those who propose more testing have economic interests behind that stance.

Regarding the possibility of a new surge in virus cases during flu season late in 2020, he said that the country is “prepared” for that thanks to the “hospital reconversion” that has been accomplished during the crisis so far, where intensive care beds have been increased throughout Mexico from 3,500 to 13,000.

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