COVID is surging in Mexico amid slow vaccinations


By Oscar López


As lines for testing again stretch for blocks and hospitals fill with patients, Mexico is experiencing another wave of the coronavirus, with six states and the capital entering a “red” alert level on Monday — the highest on the country’s coronavirus traffic light warning system.


The Mexican Health Ministry said on Sunday that the country had registered its first drop in weekly cases after nine straight weeks of rising cases, although the dip was only 1%. To date, Mexico has recorded nearly 3 million cases of the coronavirus.


On Sunday the country reported another 7,573 new cases of COVID-19 and 172 deaths. The authorities estimate that total deaths have now surpassed 250,000, among the highest death tolls in the world, although limited testing means that the true figure could be far higher.


With the more contagious delta variant now dominant in parts of the country, and vaccinations still sluggish — only about 21% of the adult population is fully vaccinated — health experts warn that conditions could get even worse.


“The situation is very serious,” said Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, the head of the molecular genetics laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a vocal government critic. “Infections are out of control, hospitals are overwhelmed, people are dying.”


Still, despite the worrying trends, the government has continued to paint a rosy picture and has refused to implement significant restrictions or mask mandates, even in states where infections are surging. Mexico also has no meaningful travel restrictions, which could hurt the important tourism industry.


Instead, the government is betting heavily on vaccination.


“We have the guarantee, which we didn’t have before, that now because of the vaccine, there are fewer hospitalizations,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a news conference on Friday. “The most important thing of all, what gives us the most calm, is that there are fewer deaths.”


López Obrador held a call with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday afternoon, in which he said they discussed immigration, mutual cooperation to confront the pandemic and potentially reopening the U.S. land border, where the Mexican government has been concentrating vaccination efforts.


But with less than a quarter of Mexico’s population fully vaccinated, compared to more than 50% in the United States, vaccines are unlikely to halt the spiraling spread of the virus south of the border any time soon, which could lead to new and more dangerous variants, health experts said.