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Street life slowly returns to Mexico, even as the coronavirus toll climbs

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Cecilia Sanchez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In terms of the rate of death, Mexico ranks 14th in the world, with 57 fatalities for every 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has seized on that statistic to defend his administration from criticism that it has mishandled the response to the virus.

"This pandemic that is battering the whole world is treating us better," he told reporters this month, noting how "countries with greater economic potency, more medical infrastructure" - including the United States and various European and South American nations - have higher death rates.

As cases began to mount here in March, the president was slow to act. He continued to stage public rallies, encouraged citizens to keep going to restaurants and at one point held up a U.S. $2 bill and a four-leaf clover and suggested that was all the protection he needed.

Alarmed advisers finally convinced him to issue a public pronouncement endorsing a stay-at-home scheme and social distancing. Officials here now credit those strategies - as well as a rapid expansion of hospital beds, ventilators and medical personnel - with averting a catastrophic scenario like the one in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where bodies piled up on the streets.

"The medical system was not overwhelmed," Lopez Obrador proclaimed.


Unlike many other nations, Mexico never shut its borders, declared a curfew or imposed a nationwide lockdown. Nor did it launch large-scale testing, which many specialists deem essential in assessing the sweep of the virus and implementing contact tracing to contain the spread.

Experts said the official death toll - which includes only confirmed cases - is undoubtedly a significant undercount.

In August, a World Health Organization official declared that the epidemic in Mexico "is clearly underrecognized," since the country was only conducting about three tests for every 100,000 people - one-fiftieth the rate in the United States.

Experts say the best way to estimate coronavirus fatalities is to look at deaths of all types since the pandemic began and compare that figure with the total number of deaths during the same period in previous years.


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