By RICARDO CASTILLO
Financial desperation and back-to-work decision-making just as Mexico enters what is expected to be the peak of its covid-19 pandemic are definitely poorly timed. But then, that’s the reality the Mexican government is facing today.
As of Tuesday, May 12, Mexico’s National Health Council announced the approval of four agreements for a progressive lifting of stay-at-home measures to contain the coronavirus spread.
The first agreement allows for the return of mining, construction and auto parts industries as of May 18.
After much political haggling and union pressure, these sectors are now considered as “essential” by the Health Secretariat.
Second was an agreement to lift restrictions on schools and working activities in municipalities that do not have a contagion.
Third was an accord to require that all companies and establishments apply obligatory health measures as dictated by the Health and Labor Secretariats.
And the fourth agreement states that the Health Secretariat will define as of June 1 a traffic light go-ahead on a state-by-state basis – particularly to be applied to the states with highest pandemic contagions – to return to normal activities in all trades and schools.
It must be clear that even before the National Health Council announced the loosely put schedule, the Interior Secretariat met with state representatives in Mexico City to clarify that the states will have the duty to determine the liberated municipalities and to apply the schedule in agreement with the federal government.
Immediately, the opposition National Action Party (PAN) central Mexico conglomerate of the states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Querétaro decided to form a regional front to continue fighting the covid-19 contagion on their own, while at the same time, returning to business as usual ASAP, following the federal government’s guidelines.
The peak of the contagion is believed to be now. Up until Tuesday, May 12, there were, according to Health Secretariat figures, a total of 3,926 confirmed coronavirus deaths, 353 more over the previous day, with a total of 38,324 cased cases, of which 8,817 were active and 22,980 were suspected cases.
The pace at which Mexicans are infected — increasing at a rate of 5.5 percent per day as of the early part of this week — will surely continue to rise.
On Tuesday night, Mexico’s covid-19 czar epidemiologist and Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell officially announced that the “healthy distancing” period that began on March 23 will be officially over on May 30, albeit with some restrictions.
“We’re not going back to the conditions previous to the pandemic,” he said.
In defining the traffic lights regulations, Economy Secretary Graciela Márquez outlined how the four lights will work:
Red: Only essential business activities will be allowed,such as the already-mentioned mining, construction and auto parts industries.
Orange: Some nonessential activities can be reinitiated, but at a reduced level, including controlled crowding in public spaces. Vulnerable individuals, namely, persons over 60, will be allowed to return to work under special protocols, such as having exclusive spaces for eating and the possibility – depending on the business administration – of cutting down their working hours.
Yellow: All activities can be restarted with no restrictions except minor ones applying to open spaces. In this color phase, closed spaces such as restaurants, churches, museums, movies and theaters can function with limited attendance. The care of vulnerable persons will drop to a medium level.
Green: In this phase, all schools can reopen.
Márquez said that the Economy Secretariat will be notifying state governments of their color status in the covid-19 traffic lights.
Naturally, this is a broadly stated program and specific changes by states, municipalities and even neighborhoods or “colonias” may apply, since some have been heavily infected and some not.
Regarding the complaint made by U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, Márquez noted that all decisionmaking has now been turned over to the Health Secretariat to strictly control contagion, but not regarding the reopening of business and industries, which is in the proper hands of the Economy Secretariat.
Was Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador listening? It looks that way.
But once again, it must be stated that the restart of economic activities in Mexico comes under stiff pressure from just about everyone – from big business to day workers – right at the peak of the pandemic.
It’s a risky move, but what the heck, the coin is in the air and one can only hope for the best.