In April 2021, the Mexican government publicly acknowledged that its prior reporting of COVID-19 deaths in the country had a dramatic margin of error: they were 60% higher than previously reported. The administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted that there had been an underreporting of some 120,000 deaths.
At the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, when the world watched the health crisis due to COVID-19 in Brazil and the United States, and its leaders Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, minimize the impact of the pandemic, Mexico added a similar number of cases and deaths in silence, away from the headlines, generating a profound health, economic and social debacle in the country.
Although in the political antipodes of Trump and Bolsonaro, López Obrador had an attitude quite similar to his fellow presidents in terms of his position in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. He refused to wear a mask, even after being infected and developing the disease twice, and resisted investing in social programs to help the most vulnerable populations cope with the coronavirus.
Most Latin American leaders reacted quickly to the start of the pandemic, limiting air travel and border crossings, and promoting isolation and physical distancing. However, López Obrador remained reluctant to implement the measures that public health experts were clamoring for. The country has never closed its airports or restricted travel.
And, in addition, the president continued to hold rallies throughout the country, part of his agenda to promote his rural programs, without a mask, walking through the crowd and kissing his followers.
Mexico is one of the most densely populated countries, in a region where close to 500 million people lack a proper health system and live in multi-generational housing and overcrowded neighborhoods. A fantastic breeding ground for a virus.
As the denial ran its course, COVID-19 cases were on the rise, and so were the deaths. Mexico City became the emblem of the lack of policies, first on the list of cases and already in 2020 predicting an overwhelmed hospital system.
One of the most criticized actions of the López Obrador administration was that it refused to declare a health emergency, an administrative action that enables governments to move resources to face the emergency and also to receive help from international organizations.
That lack of public health action will impact the country for years after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is declared, experts say.
In a video presented to colleagues in September 2020, Dr. Francisco Moreno Sánchez, head of Internal Medicine at the ABC Medical Center in Mexico City, and in charge of the COVID-19 Program at the same hospital, said in advance what later Reports would confirm, “in Mexico we do not have a wave of COVID-19 cases, we have a tsunami.”
During the 2020 Holiday season, Mexico became the first country to begin administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
But the health crisis was complicated when there were problems with the vaccine agreement with the pharmaceutical company and the supply practically stopped for a month between January and February 2021. That was a huge window of opportunity for the coronavirus to continue circulating.
Experts from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health said the lack of vaccines in that period resulted in about 3,500 deaths.
A study by the Institute for Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco found that some 190,000 deaths could have been prevented if Mexico had better managed the pandemic.
After this situation, Mexico sought vaccines in China, Cuba and Russia. The country eventually received 870,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India.
In the midst of these extreme situations, not only did the coronavirus continue to circulate, but it grew stronger with new variants, the powerful delta and the super contagious omicron later in the year.
And the disparities, as in other societies, became even more evident in the trans, from access to tests to diagnoses and treatment. The way to approach the tests in Mexico is only if the person has symptoms, which also complicated the detection of asymptomatic cases (a large percentage of COVID-19 cases).
This testing limitation has also led to mixed results with contact tracing.
Another inequity: the number of deaths in private sector hospitals have also been significantly lower than in public hospitals.
As of February 2, 2022, Mexico adds a total of almost 5 million cases, with 306,920 deaths due to COVID-19. And 166 million doses have been administered.
A Tulane University analysis of Mexico’s socioeconomic situation as a result of COVID-19 can go deep and last a long time, with thousands who have already passed, and will continue to cross the poverty line. Especially among the so-called “moderately poor”, who depend on wages for their subsistence, unlike rural communities that grow their own food.
Although this trend appears in other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, according to Tulane’s analysis it suggests that the greatest impact will be experienced by Mexico and Brazil.
And they attribute it in large part to something already mentioned: the total absence of additional federal welfare plans during the pandemic crisis.