Mexico looks back in sorrow on a year with Covid-19

By Marti Quintana

Mexico City, Feb 27 (efe-epa).- A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico is mourning 184,000 deaths and struggling to cope with the economic effects, but the government’s ambitious vaccination plan may be the long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel.

The virus was first detected in Mexico on Feb. 28, 2020.

“Patient zero” in the Aztec nation was a 35-year-old Italian resident of Mexico who had recently visited his homeland.

Since then, Mexico has accumulated more than 2 million cases, while only the United States and Brazil have lost more lives to the coronavirus.

While the official death toll is 184,000, Mexico’s statistics agency said recently that as many as 38,000 additional fatalities were left out of the tally.

More than 3,000 Mexican health-care workers have succumbed to Covid-19.

Among those who have survived is nurse Mariana Cruz, 35, who was so ill that she required oxygen. Now recovered, she works at a kiosk offering free Covid-19 tests in Nezahualcoyotl, the poor Mexico City suburb that is the epicenter of the tragedy in Mexico.

“I didn’t want to come back, I was too afraid,” she said as she described for Efe the emotional impact of having seen so many young coronavirus patients perish in hospitals.

Mexico, which was in the grip of a mild recession before the pandemic, saw its gross domestic product shrink by a whopping 8.2 percent in 2020.

Current forecasts call for Mexican GDP to grow this year by between 3 percent and 5 percent, far short of what would be needed to recoup last year’s decline.

In the interest of not leaving Mexico’s millions of informal workers without any income, the government never ordered a full lockdown, though non-essential activities were shut down in April and May.

Last June, authorities embarked on a cautious re-opening of the economy, but the process has been anything but smooth.

Here in the capital, a surge in infections and deaths forced another partial lockdown at the end of December as hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed.

The economic fallout from Covid-19 is feared to have increased the ranks of the nearly 42 percent of Mexicans already living below the poverty line by as many as 10 million people.

“Economically, we are doing very poorly,” Alberto, a man of around 50 who peddles snacks on Mexico City’s Avenida Juarez, tells Efe.

“We make barely enough to pay the cost of rent, light, water and food,” he says before sounding a note of optimism: “I believe we are coming out of it. We are no longer as we were at the beginning. And yes, there has been an improvement in sales.”

Critics of the government’s handling of the public health crisis point to insufficient testing, the undercounting of cases and to the prediction made in April 2020 by Covid-19 “czar” Hugo Lopez-Gatell that no more than 8,000 Mexicans would die.

The country’s leftist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been accused of not taking Covid-19 seriously enough. Even after having the illness himself, he refuses to wear a mask, and he has rejected the idea of a strict lockdown as “authoritarian.”

“Why did I get infected? Because, like millions of Mexicans, I have to work,” the 67-year-old president said at a press conference after recovering.

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