By Cristina Sanchez Reyes and Pedro Pablo Cortes
Mexico City, Apr 27 (efe-epa).- Two months after Mexico’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, the Aztec nation has entered a crucial stage filled with doubts about the resilience of its health care system and worries about a sinking economy that could contract by more than 6 percent this year.
Mexico reported its first case of the virus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease on Feb. 28 – a 35-year-old man who had traveled to hard-hit Italy.
Health authorities at that time urged people not to panic, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in late March that the country had spent three months preparing for the pandemic.
“There’s medicine, beds. All the money that’s needed, and most importantly there’s organization, there’s leadership, there’s governability,” he said then.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases and Covid-19-related deaths in Mexico has now climbed to 14,677 and 1,351, respectively.
But the government, which has been tracking the spread of the disease by using a sentinel surveillance system involving only a few high-quality testing centers and tests of symptomatic and asymptomatic people alike, estimates that the real number of infected individuals could be nine times higher.
In that regard, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said Sunday that of its 36 member countries (including the seven nations with the most cases, headed by the United States, Spain and Italy) Mexico’s 0.4 tests per 1,000 inhabitants are the fewest of all.
In an interview with Efe a few days ago, Mexican Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said the country has not carried out mass testing because the traditional method of monitoring the spread of epidemics, based on identifying clinical cases through tests of individuals with symptoms, is “extremely anachronistic” and leads to a “squandering of resources.”
Even as all signs point to a much higher incidence of the coronavirus than the official figures show, health personnel have taken to the streets to protest a lack of medical materials and protocols for the treatment of Covid-19.
“The service is in very bad condition, and in some areas the doors don’t even work,” a nurse at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases told Efe two weeks after Mexico’s first case was reported.
The first demonstrations took place in Mexico City to demand beds, ventilators and other materials for fighting the coronavirus and have since spread to more than 200 hospitals in states around the country, according to the non-governmental organization Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity.
Mexico’s government declared itself to be in a maximum infection phase (phase 3) of the coronavirus on April 21.
But health authorities say the peak of the pandemic in the country will not be reached until between May 8-10, even as doubts persist about the health care system’s ability to cope with a potential surge in Covid-19 patients.
Those concerns stem from reports by organizations such as the World Bank, whose figures show that Mexico is one of the countries with the fewest hospital beds per capita – just 1.4 per 1,000 people.
Lopez-Gatell acknowledged in his interview with Efe that the country will need up to 16,000 beds for seriously ill patients, but he expressed confidence that Mexico now has close to that capacity thanks to agreements with private hospitals, military assistance and hospital conversion efforts.
Mexico also has acquired medical inputs from China and other countries and asked the United States to sell it 10,000 ventilators and 10,000 monitors.
On the economic front, the coronavirus has further battered an economy that contracted 0.1 percent in 2019.
The carnage in 2020 figures to be much worse, with the International Monetary Fund projecting that Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) will plunge by 6.6 percent.