Omicron variant causing Covid cases to spike in Mexico, stressing hospitals

by Cristina Sanchez Reyes

Mexico City, Jan 18 (EFE).- Mexico has set new coronavirus infection records for the past two weeks due to the spread of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant and the health sector is beginning to feel the strain from the spike in cases although authorities are minimizing the pandemic and pushing for universal anti-Covid vaccination.

“People are now walking around without facemasks and they’re going to parties. In (the Mexico City neighborhood of) Peñon there was a very ugly incident. On Jan. 6, Three Kings Day, (there was) a crowd, everyone without facemasks and the government (didn’t) do anything,” Remedios Montes Hernandez told EFE.

Montes Hernandez, who on Tuesday came to a health clinic for her Covid booster shot, acknowledged that right now the situation doesn’t seem as complicated as it did a year ago.

“When there were all those deaths, they’d go out at three or four per day and they buried them quickly” in her neighborhood, she said.

Her remarks coincide in large part with what health authorities have been saying.

On Tuesday, Mexican Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Prevention Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that “cases are 10 times higher than hospitalizations and deaths. The difference is very substantial between cases, which are increasing rapidly, and hospitalizations and deaths.”

Nevertheless, the healthcare system is beginning to be threatened by the rise in hospital occupancy and the increase in Covid around the country, which so far has infected 4.3 million people and killed 301,469, making Mexico the No. 5 country in terms of absolute numbers of Covid deaths.

On various occasions, both Lopez-Gatell and Mexican President Andes Manual Lopez Obrador, who last week tested positive for Covid for the second time, have downplayed the impact of the Omicron variant.

On Jan. 11, during the president’s morning press conference, Lopez-Gatell agreed that Omicron is becoming the preponderant variant in Mexico but he said that for most people it is merely like the “common cold” with very little chance of more serious pulmonary effects.

And last Thursday, from isolation, Lopez Obrador said that “hospitalizations are not going to increase. There are hospitalizations, but they’re not increasing much.”

EFE noted in a tour of several capital hospitals treating Covid patients that although no chaos was evident there, the figures indicate that at least 45 percent of the city’s hospitals are saturated or on the verge of becoming saturated, with occupancy rates of 90 percent or higher.

According to figures from the Health Secretariat, in the first three weeks of 2022, general hospitalizations doubled. As of Jan. 3, occupancy was 15 percent, a week later it had climbed to 21 percent and by Jan. 17 it was at 31 percent.

Regarding the occupancy of beds with a ventilator, during the same period the percentage rose from 11 percent to 17 percent by Monday.

Mexican authorities have also emphasized that the Omicron variant has been found to be causing fewer deaths and, in large measure, that is thanks to the vaccination campaign.

Currently, the number of deaths is far below what it was at the worst moment of the pandemic, a year ago. However, over the past week daily Covid deaths have risen by an average of 33 percent.

“(There are) more infections but they are less serious. That’s what’s being seen. I’m saying that it’s the work of the vaccines, so yes you’ve got to get (vaccinated),” Carmelo Albañil Escalante, a businessman who on Tuesday came to the Sports City in eastern Mexico City to get his booster shot, told EFE.

In that regard, Lopez-Gatell said on Tuesday that 65 of every 100 people who are hospitalized in Mexico for Covid have not been vaccinated.

A total of 46 million people still have not been inoculated nationwide, including children age 14 and younger who have been excluded from those allowed to get the vaccine.

The public is more aware of the growing number of cases, but many say that returning to lockdown is not an option.

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