MEXICO CITY – More than 100,000 deaths in Mexico are now attributed to COVID-19, a disease that has placed a major strain on the country’s health system and exacted a severe economic toll on its most vulnerable citizens.
Mexico currently ranks fourth worldwide in the number of deaths attributed to the pandemic, behind only the United States, Brazil and India. It also ranks 11th globally in coronavirus cases even though authorities there have been criticized for a lack of widespread testing.
The country’s 1,019,543 cases and 100,104 deaths are far higher than the initial projections of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration, which is now refraining from making further forecasts.
Mexico has weathered the crisis and there have been no images of overloaded hospitals and dead bodies in the streets. But the country still is plagued by a long list of problems, and their consequences over the medium and long term are difficult to predict.
A total of 144,083 health professionals have contracted the novel coronavirus, 1,924 of whom have succumbed to the disease; according to Amnesty International, the number of coronavirus deaths among that nation’s medical personnel is the highest worldwide.
In Mexico City’s Hospital Juarez de Mexico, medical staff work at a frenetic pace even though the occupancy rate in the COVID-19 area is currently at a manageable level of 67 percent.
“(We’re treating) a patient who’s on the verge of death, and you have to be there all the time. And it’s not one, there are lots of patients,” the head of intensive care in that hospital’s COVID Area, Jessica Garduño, told EFE.
She said “mental strength” is crucial and acknowledged that some of her colleagues are suffering from depression. Garduño also expressed dismay that even as the health system is absorbed in the health crisis 24/7 a portion of the population does not appear to take the pandemic seriously.
Last weekend, for example, hundreds of sunbathers flocked to the beaches of the southern resort city of Acapulco.
“The resources in my country are gradually going to run out, like everywhere else … And the problem is that people out there don’t take precautions, they don’t (social) distance,” she lamented.
New patients continue to arrive steadily at this cutting-edge research hospital, including 69-year-old Maria del Rosario Jhweste, who was admitted a week ago.
“I don’t know how it happened, but I fell into it,” the woman told EFE with a thin voice. Unlike many of her countrymen, she said she always uses a face mask, especially after her sister-in-law died of COVID-19 on June 26.
At her side, Margarita Hernandez cannot stop coughing. A 59-year-old house cleaner, she did not isolate herself after first exhibiting symptoms due to her pressing economic needs.
“I felt good during the day and, in the evening, I’d arrive and feel tired, worn out. But I had to keep going to work,” she told EFE.
Finally, however, her body gave out on her and she needed to be hospitalized.
Among authorities and experts, there are opposing views as to whether Mexico is experiencing a “second wave” similar to that of European countries or if it is still battling the first wave of the pandemic.
The country registered its first coronavirus case in February and suspended all non-essential activities in April and May, although no strict stay-at-home orders were issued to avoid devastating economic harm to millions of informal workers.
According to Malaquias Lopez, a professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the lack of a mandatory mask requirement, excessive citizen mobility and, above all, a lack of testing caused the epidemic to explode. “We’re working blind,” she told EFE.
She also lamented that an emphasis was placed on “mitigation,” as opposed to prevention, measures. “This war had to be won within the communities, not in the hospitals,” Lopez said.
But the health emergency is only one side of the coronavirus coin in the Aztec nation.
Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) plunged by a historic 18.7 percent in the second quarter, although it rebounded by 12 percent in the third quarter relative to the previous three-month period.
The economy is recovering, according to Lopez Obrador, although Mexico’s GDP is officially forecast to plummet 8 percent for 2020 as a whole.
The country has roughly 50 million people below the poverty line (equivalent to 41.9 percent of the population), and several organizations are projecting that the current crisis could cause that number to swell by at least another 10 million.
“There’s been very significant economic deterioration that has mainly affected the most vulnerable population,” said Violeta Rodriguez of UNAM’s Economic Research Institute.
Of the more than 1.1 million formal jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis, more than half of them have yet to be recovered, according to official figures.
An even bigger problem is the precarious informal sector, where a whopping 12 million jobs were lost, although roughly 7 million of them have been recovered.
“This recovery undoubtedly has to do with the severe emergency families faced. They couldn’t tolerate more time in confinement,” said the economist, although she added that she still fears “devastating effects” in the medium term.