By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Mexico City, Nov 2 (efe-epa).- Mexico on Monday finished its three-day period of national mourning decreed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to honor during the Day of the Dead celebration the 91,985 people who have died so far from Covid-19 in this country, a celebration which this year was marked by unprecedented health restrictions.
The three days of mourning, during which government events were cancelled and Mexican flags flew at half-staff, concluded with a traditional ceremony presented by the Wixarika, an indigenous people living in western Mexico, at the National Palace.
This is the first time that a period of national mourning has been declared since the September 2017 earthquake, which killed 471 people.
The patio of the presidential residence was the scene of a ceremony with indigenous and Catholic roots during which a prayer was offered with incense, tobacco, candles, flowers and dances.
Lopez Obrador last Tuesday had announced the mourning period during the Day of the Dead festivities – lasting from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 – because Covid-19 had brought “much pain” to the country, having killed almost 92,000 people and infecting an official total of 929,392, many of whom will suffer long-term negative health consequences.
The president recalled that behind the numbers there are “people and much sadness among relatives and friends.”
With all official events cancelled nationwide, the National Palace was transformed into the site for the tribute, with indigenous representatives on Saturday bringing traditional and colorful offerings for the dead and displaying them for the president.
And on Sunday, with nightfall on the key date of Nov. 1, when the spirits of the dead are thought to benignly visit the land of the living once again, representatives from 20 indigenous peoples staged an emotional candle-lighting ceremony to guide the souls of the dead.
A Day of the Dead ceremony like this one is unprecedented in Mexico, where the pandemic has morphed and altered the most universal Mexican holiday, which has been declared part of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
To prevent families from gathering as they traditionally do to welcome the spirits of their ancestors, a large part of the country closed down local churches and cemeteries, including those in the Mexico City metro area and even in the state of Oaxaca, where the ceremony is an iconic and widely observed phenomenon.
This year, the offerings set out by Mexican families in their homes for their departed loved ones took on special importance, with photos of the deceased, food and marigold flowers so that the souls of the dead may visit the households during the evening.
This year, there are tens of thousands of new spirits to be welcomed, many of them those of doctors who were treating coronavirus patients before they themselves succumbed.
This year, the huge altar to the dead was not erected on Mexico City’s huge Zocalo Square, and instead authorities invited the public to share on the social networks photos of the offerings they set out in their homes.
The Day of the Dead came this year during a period when people are especially on alert for a new outbreak of the virus in Mexico, a situation that has already been occurring in Europe.
During the period January-September, Mexico has had some 193,000 “excess” deaths, above and beyond the number of people who generally die during that time span, showing that the impact of the pandemic extends beyond the roughly 92,000 people who have died specifically from Covid-19.
Although Lopez Obrador last week declared that the “light at the end of the tunnel” could be seen, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell warned that the infection curve “is not yet falling at its previous speed.”
The northern state of Chihuahua declared a red alert – meaning the maximum risk of infection – and the Mexico City government, with Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum having become infected, warned that it will implement new restrictions if hospitalizations continue to increase with an eye toward keeping the health care system from being overwhelmed with patients.