Epidemiologist and Undersecretary of the Mexican Secretariat of Public Health Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez. Photo: Google

By KELIN DILLON

International attention was brought to the Mexican government’s mishandling of nation’s covid resurgence in a New York Times article published on Monday, Dec. 21, by Natalie Kitroeff. 

The Mexican government had reassured its constituents that Mexico City had not reached case levels high enough to re-enter the red zone during a briefing on Dec. 4.

However, according to the official case number in Mexico City at this time, it had already passed the red-light threshold during the time of the aforementioned public briefing.

The traffic light system was set up by the Mexican government to determine “when to limit economic activity in each state and in the capital,” explained Kitroeff in the article. 

Green meant the numbers were low, orange denoted a higher risk and a few restrictions, and red signaled a widespread outbreak that called for a shutdown of all nonessential businesses,” she continued.

Mexico City reported a 4 percent increase in covid-related hospitalizations from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo said back in July of this year that, after surpassing 5,127 covid-related hospitalizations, the capital would have to return to the red traffic light category.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo. Photo: Wikimedia

The capital passed this threshold in the week of Nov. 26 to Dec. 3, when hospitalizations reached a figure of 5,174. 

Based on the government’s own traffic light system, Mexico City should have automatically entered the red zone then and there, locking the capital down.

However, the Mexican government made the judgement to not re-enter the red category at the time. Instead, it released new restrictions in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus without completely shutting the economy of the city down.

At the time, surveys of the Mexico City population revealed a split in opinion over whether the capital should return to the red. About 47 percent said it should re-enter the red, 49 percent said it should remain in orange, and 4 percent didn’t know where they stood on the issue. 

Now, as cases and hospitalizations surge in Mexico, the New York Times exposé said the Mexican government should be held accountable for misleading its citizens.

Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, undersecretary of the Mexican Secretariat of Public Health, had previously said the traffic light system was set up to be an “objective instrument” over which “there can be no negotiations.”

Kitroeff’s article exposed López-Gatell alleged hypocrisy, revealing he personally reported a lower figure of case levels to the Mexico City government than he had released to the public earlier that day in an official government chart. 

Documents obtained by the New York Times also revealed that López-Gatell underrepresented the percentage of positive tests in the capital to Sheinbaum, telling her they were at 25 percent, when, in fact, the official figure was at 35 percent, a 10 percent difference.

The article seemingly placed the majority of the blame on López-Gatell, in his role within the Secretariat of Health, for Mexico’s failures. Notwithstanding, most analysts recognize that letting one individual shoulder an entire government’s blame in the mishandling of the pandemic could be considered unfair, as the coronavirus has brought an unprecedented situation into every country in the world, and not one has handled the crisis flawlessly.

The Mexican epidemiologist responded to the New York Times’ allegations the same day the article was published. 

“There are several information holes in that report,” said López-Gatell. “They took partial information, they interpreted it without a correct knowledge of the situation and of the multiple mechanisms that we have to work with to qualify the traffic light classification.”

López-Gatell went on to say that he communicates with Sheinbaum about the coronavirus pandemic on a daily basis, and noted that Kitroeff did not seem to understand the difference between his role within the federal government, and that of Sheinbaum as the head of the government of Mexico City. Turning Mexico City to red would be the call of Sheinbaum, not López-Gatell. 

All 32 states in Mexico were reporting accurate case numbers to the federal government, said López-Gatell, and would continue to do so.

The Mexican Secretariat of Health revealed the latest death toll for the country on Dec. 21, the same day as López-Gatell’s statement, with a reported 118,598 people having been killed by the coronavirus in Mexico so far. Mexico holds the fourth-largest death toll in the world.

The Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) announced it would be sending in additonal health personnel from outlying states to Mexico City and the State of Mexico (Edoméx) to assist with the increasing hospitalizations in the metropolitan area. So far, 620 doctors and nurses have come into the area through this system, called Operation Chapultepec.

With Mexico City having been put back into lockdown until the new year, a reinforced medical force, and the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine due to arrive in Mexico on Wednesday, Dec. 23, Mexico hopes to see a slowdown in cases before 2021.

…Dec 23, 2020

 

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