By Cristina Sanchez Reyes
Mexico City, Jan 25 (EFE).- The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is ravaging Mexico, a country that continues without restrictions on movement or gathering, despite the deluge of people going to free Covid-19 testing centers and record numbers of infections in recent days.
The country, with more than 126 million citizens and where more than 89 percent of its population 18 years and older have been vaccinated, in the past week has registered its highest infection tallies with a record 60,552 newly detected Covid cases on Jan. 19 and several days of 50,000-plus cases.
Mexico, which is presently dealing with a fourth wave of the pandemic, has experienced a total of 303,000 Covid deaths – according to official figures – making it the No. 5 country in the world for absolute numbers of fatalities.
Despite these dire figures, on Tuesday Mexico’s pandemic czar, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said that with the 12 percent increase in cases in recent days “we’re already starting to see a change in the trend and this, of course, is reducing the quantity and the percentage of estimated active cases.”
Epidemiologist and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Malaquias Lopez said that the infection levels in Mexico are something “we haven’t seen before,” although he added that one cannot really know the true magnitude of the pandemic.
“It takes a lot of work to be able to say with precision because to a large degree it depends on doing tests and, since they’re not doing tests, we could be at much greater numbers,” he said, regarding the federal policy of not testing people for Covid-19.
The pandemic has highlighted a hospital system with significant failings and which, once again, is beginning to feel the pressure from the quickly rising numbers of cases.
According to figures from the Health Secretariat, in the first three weeks of this year, hospitalizations have increased substantially.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 2 general hospital bed occupancy was pegged at 14 percent, but in the past 24 hours it has been measured to be 43 percent. For beds with a ventilator, during the same period occupancy figures increased from 12 percent to 25 percent.
However, Lopez-Gatell emphasized that, due to the continuing vaccination campaign, this fourth Covid wave is showing “a 70 percent lower” intensity in terms of hospital occupancy rates compared with the second wave, which occurred in early 2021.
Although hospitals are not overflowing, the increase in bed occupancy has been alarming for health specialists specifically because restrictions have not been implemented despite the elevated number of infections.
Mexico only locked down for two months in 2020 without making social isolation obligatory so that the country’s millions of informal workers would still be able to make a living.
In addition, the country never fully closed its borders so as not to affect tourism or jobs.
On the other hand, Mexico was one of the last countries in the world to push forward with in-person classes at schools in August 2021, although the students had not yet been vaccinated.
“This situation is super complicated because some are still afraid,” Yolanda Serrano, a primary school teacher who came to a health center to get a Covid test, told EFE.
Lopez said that currently the country is not experiencing the “catastrophe” of a year ago, when there were long lines of people trying to get bottled oxygen for their sick loved ones given that many hospitals were saturated and not admitting new patients no matter how ill they were with Covid.
But Covid-19 is not just a “covidcito” (little Covid) that can be treated with tea and a mentholated chest unguent, as claimed by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who in early January tested positive for the second time, although now he has recovered.
Lopez said that it was regrettable that so little has been learned over the course of the pandemic, noting that the government continues to hold to the same stance of two years ago, is not promoting the use of facemasks, not testing people for Covid and not imposing movement and/or gathering restrictions.