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In a new editorial column published in daily Mexican newspaper El Universal, Free University of Berlin mathematician Raúl Rojas revealed that Mexico is anticipated to experience 64,000 covid-19-related deaths across the course of 2023 – a far cry from the calculations once touted to the public by Mexican Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo López-Gatell back in 2020.

Just the forecasted 2023 death toll alone is disappointing disparity from López-Gatell’s initial covid-related death estimates, as the public health official initially calculated a maximum of 60,000 deaths across the entirety of the pandemic in what would be a “catastrophic scenario” back in June 2020 and a projected end date to the pandemic in Mexico of June 25, 2020. 

However, the covid-related death toll in the country had passed López-Gatell’s estimates a long time ago; according to Rojas and data from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) from the start of the pandemic until the end of 2022, Mexico’s current covid-related death toll stands at 793,625 persons, while the virus continues to take the lives of thousands across the nation.

“There were several waves of infections of different intensity, and by March 2021 the National Health Survey revealed, through blood samples, that half of Mexicans had already been infected by covid,” wrote Rojas in his El Universal editorial. “In other words, 66 million people infected, instead of the few thousand that López-Gatell predicted in April 2020.”

Rojas went on to point out that López-Gatell’s public disdain for masks at the start of the pandemic, which later became mandatory as scientific evidence came to prove the transmission of covid-19 through the air, may have only exacerbated the widespread contraction of the virus across the Mexican public.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the handling of the epidemic by the Mexican authorities was a spectacular debacle, something never seen before, even in Mexico, where we have already seen everything,” said Rojas. “And to date no one has resigned, it is not even accepted that they have made mistakes: it turns out that what the officials said, they did not say, and that the deaths were not that many (since there was always an underreporting of deaths). People were dying in their homes while the government congratulated itself on its great performance, saying that ‘Mexico gave an example to the world.’”

As for Mexico’s present-day situation with the virus, Rojas points to the mass vaccination campaigns and the diminished lethality of covid-19’s later-emerged variants as integral to Mexico’s re-opening and the population’s return to work. 

But still, Rojas said, Mexico’s fight against the contagious virus is far from over.

“We have not reached zero hospitalized, nor will we reach it in the near future,” wrote Rojas. “The SARS-CoV-2 virus has entered the environment of viruses that we are confronted with in daily life, and we will have to get used to living with it.”

“The good news is that covid is no longer more dangerous than influenza, for people over 60, and it is even less dangerous for the very young,” continued Rojas. “The bad news is that covid is much more contagious than the flu. In the case of the United States, by 2023 it is projected that deaths from covid will be equal to about three times the number of deaths from influenza. It is as if in today’s new world the flu, with which we have lived for a century, has quadrupled in danger.”

Rojas then revealed his calculation of 64,000 estimated covid-related deaths in Mexico across 2023, which was made using the death curves from the United States, Canada, Denmark and Germany, as Mexico’s publicly reported death toll consistently sits at “a quarter of the average of those other four countries.”

“With the data it reports, the Mexican government expects that only about 16,000 Mexicans will die from covid in 2023,” said Rojas. “Since I do not believe that Mexico has already surpassed Denmark in terms of its covid care, and assuming that the mortality rate is similar in all the countries mentioned, it would be necessary to estimate some 64,000 compatriots who will be victims of covid this year. It is a figure almost equal to the ‘catastrophic scenario’ of Hugo López-Gatell, calculated for the entire epidemic. After three years and 793,000 deaths, we have already reached the Gatellian number on an annual basis.”

The Berlin-based mathematician added that Mexico’s pandemic death toll has dropped the average life expectancy in Mexico down by 9.3 months to 74 years and three months from the 75 year expectancy established in 2019.

“The big question, moreover, is the long-term effects of covid,” Rojas concluded. “It may be that severe cases of the disease have exacerbated some chronic diseases, and additional mortality will only become apparent in five to 10 years. This issue needs to be followed up. It is also imperative that public and private hospitals, as well as laboratories and pharmacies with qualified personnel, be allowed to directly acquire and apply vaccines, since centralized administration has already reached its limit, now that it may be necessary to vaccinate one once a year, especially older people. That decentralized model has already been adopted in many countries.”

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