Both federal and regional authorities are implementing emergency measures and restrictions as the Covid-19 pandemic started its spread across Mexico this week.
As of Tuesday evening, 91 positive coronavirus cases had been confirmed in Mexico – seven of them in the state of Jalisco.
Testing, however, is still sporadic and limited to hospitals, so the full number of cases is almost certainly higher, most medical experts agree.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatill said earlier this week that although testing is being stepped up, it is not necessary for everyone showing Covid-19 symptoms to get the prueba. He did announce, however, that the federal government will spend an additional $US200 million on equipment – inlcuding ventilators – in readiness for an increase in hospitalizations.
Citizens with mild symptoms are being recommended to self-isolate and only go to a hospital if their condition worsens.
The Education Ministry (SEP) has brought forward the two-week Semana Santa school holiday by two weeks. All schools throughout the country will be closed between March 20 and April 20.
Neary all mass events have been cancelled, and the nation’s sporting and cultural calendar has been effectively put on hold for the foreseeable future. Many businesses and government agencies are altering their schedules to accommodate elderly employees who are most vulnerable from the virus. Staff at many service, entertainment and recreational businesses are being placed on leave, many of them without pay.
The public has been asked to refrain from all “non-essential” domestic and foreign travel. While airlines have canceled some flights, international routes remain open.
Mexico has no immediate plans to close its borders or restrict entry to foreigners, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador confirmed at his regular press briefing Wednesday. Tourists are still welcome, he said, and those in the country who develop symptoms will be treated the same as Mexican citizens.
Lopez Obrador stressed that his government’s approach to handling the crisis is working and that the health sector is prepared for phase two of the epidemic, during which the number of cases would probably rise sharply. He said Mexico’s fortitude in facing “invasions, epidemics, floods, earthquakes and corrupt governments” throughout its history will stand the nation in good stead in confronting the disease.
The president has been the focus of heavy criticism for seeming to take a cavalier attitude toward the crisis and his own government’s guidelines regarding “social distancing.” At the weekend he was photographed hugging and kissing supporters during a large rally held in the southern state of Oaxaca.
On Wednesday, Lopez Obrador promised to stop physical contact with his supporters and reduce the attendance at his rallies, but refused to suspend them for the time being.
Lopez-Gatill, who has been joining the president at his press briefings, said a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases is expected next week, and that the emergency will probably last for around 12 weeks, the same amount of time as in China.
Many state governors have implemented more drastic measures than those recommended by the federal government, inlcuding the closure of nightclubs, bars, casinos, museums, event halls, and other places where crowds congregate.
Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institiute at the Wilson Center, said Lopez Obrador "perhaps wants to downplay the severity of the crisis because he fears that widespread anxiety or panic will further damage the country’s economic performance."
The Mexican peso – along with other Latin American currencies – has become a major victim of the virus. Wednesday morning, it was trading against the U.S. dollar at around 24.29 – an historic low. According to financial sources, the Mexican central bank (Banxico) said Wednesday morning that it would carry out a currency auction worth $US2 billion later in the day to try and stem the peso’s fall.
Meanwhile, the federal government is exploring ways to mitigate the economic fallout.
For starters, millions of seniors will get a four-month advance on their “universal pensions,” Lopez Obrador said Wednesday.
Business leaders have urged the federal government to suspend all income tax (ISR) commitments until further notice.