MEXICO CITY – Acapulco is ending this year’s Holy Week with a flood of visitors who have overwhelmed local beaches and bars presaging a much-feared third wave of COVID-19 infection in Mexico, which so far has suffered 2.25 million confirmed cases and more than 204,000 deaths.
After a 2020 during which the pandemic prevented the arrival of hundreds of thousands of free-spending tourists, the popular seaside resort has been resurrected, in a manner of speaking, into the country’s most desired tourist destination because of its golden beaches and nightlife, but this has all come at a complicated time.
After health authorities had reported a drop in infections in recent weeks, after the harsh COVID peak in January – the deadliest so far, with more than 30,000 deaths –, experts have been warning of the possibility of a third pandemic wave.
But in spite of these warnings, domestic travelers, most of them from central Mexico, have been flocking to Acapulco’s beaches claiming that the best way to be able to accommodate themselves to the new normal is to learn to live with the virus.
“First, you have to have faith in God. You have to move forward because we can’t stay here in ‘the cave,’” said Maria, a woman who along with her family decided to make the five-hour, 400-kilometer (250-mile) trip from Mexico City to the coastal resort town to forget the stress brought about by the quarantine.
“We know that there’s risk in everything, but if you shut yourself off … you’re not going to be able to live day to day,” said Jesus, who – wearing a facemask – was sunbathing, albeit keeping a certain social distance between himself and others to continue to abide by recommended health protocols.
“You’re always going to be worried about getting sick or your neighbor getting sick, and that’s psychological,” he added.
According to estimates from the Mexican Tourism Secretariat this week, one of the most important vacation periods along with Christmas and New Year’s, general hotel occupancy is expected to be 58 percent as five million tourists travel here and there around the country spending 12 billion pesos ($590 million).
Meanwhile, in Acapulco, hotel occupancy at this time remains 30 percent below that in 2019 at just 45 percent with some 300,000 visitors in the area spending about a billion pesos (some $49.3 million).
For service providers, like restaurant waiters, Holy Week has been a big breath of oxygen for their earnings and has ballooned their income, which on average had been only about 300 pesos ($15) on the weekends due to the extraordinarily limited number of tourists.
“We’re not at 90 percent occupancy as in years past, but at least it’s almost 50 percent and that’s something,” a waiter – attending to visitors on a full beach with every ounce of friendliness he had to ensure that “they return to this spot” – told EFE.
Acapulco has experienced 15,407 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,771 deaths so far during the pandemic.
The city is under a yellow alert, meaning that only the beaches are fully open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
As part of that alert system, nightclubs have remained closed and open-air bars can function but have not been able to provide for all the tourists, only being allowed to operate at half-capacity.
With hotel occupancy also restricted, tourists have opted to use the so-called “Hotel Camarena” – that is, sleeping on the beach – with whole families camping out on the nearby pavement, something that is banned by the authorities.
Local authorities, meanwhile, have been urging the public to continue following the recommended health protocols.
A week ago, the country’s official in charge of handling the pandemic, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, warned of the possibility of a third pandemic wave and the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador administration decided to postpone the vaccination of teachers and focus on immunizing people in the central “megalopolis” including Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Puebla, Morelos, Queretaro, Tlaxcala and Mexico.
“In terms of the pandemic, it’s like (that area) is a single entity, so we’re going to focus our efforts to cover this region, which has the greatest population density and the biggest risk of becoming the center of a third wave surge,” Lopez-Gatell said.
With the arrival, so far, of 14.67 million vaccine doses, of which some 8.9 million have been distributed, the government forecasts that in the coming days the rate of vaccination will increase.