The United States and neighbors in Latin America have suspended
flights, banned public gatherings and closed schools.
In Mexico City, however, tens of thousands of music fans rocked out
to Guns and Roses at a festival at the weekend. President Andres
Manuel Lopez Obrador also went on tour, hugging surging crowds of
supporters and kissing babies.
The gamble is straightforward: Mexico's economy was stagnating even
before the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered factories worldwide and the
government has said it wants to limit economic damage by not
Some Mexican scientists, receiving news of Europe's growing
lockdown, South Korea's widespread testing and global travel bans,
are increasingly worried that Mexico's softly-softly approach could
lead to a bigger epidemic down the road.
"I am worried that we end up in a situation like Italy, where
measures weren't taken on time, and the number of cases started to
get away from them," said Rosa Maria del Angel, who heads the
Department of Infectomics and Molecular Pathogenesis at Mexico's
National Polytechnic Institute.
In 2009, a new strain of swine flu that emerged in Mexico raised
fears of a global pandemic.
Authorities acted swiftly, shutting down public life in the densely
populated capital, Mexico City, and swathes of the country. The
silent streets foreshadowed scenes today in towns under lockdown
from China to Europe and the United States.
The disease was quickly contained and normal life resumed within
weeks, but by some estimates the response shaved a percentage point
from that year's economic activity. The economy, already reeling
from the global financial crisis, ended 2009 contracted by more than
"LET'S KEEP OUR CALM"
The lesson is not lost on the officials running Mexico's response in
2020, many of whom were also involved in fighting the influenza
epidemic. Mexico's economy last year suffered its first recession
[to top of second column]
"The economic loss was directly related, in the most past, to the disruption of
tourism, trade and services," said Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who
was a senior official in the epidemiology department during the flu crisis.
That is "why it is so important, with very careful precision, not to take
pre-emptive actions that do not correspond to the magnitude of the risk," Lopez-Gatell,
who is now the public face of the government's response, told reporters last
The finance minister and other senior officials have voiced the same sentiment,
while Lopez Obrador has said he will continue public activities until Lopez-Gatell
tells him to stop.
This week, the government announced initial measures, including more testing. It
recommends school closures from next Monday and canceling cultural events with
more than 5,000 people.
While nations from Canada to Peru have suspended flights or limited free
movement, Mexico has yet to propose any restrictions on travel around or in and
out of the country.
Tourism accounts for about one-sixth of Mexico's roughly $1.3 trillion economy.
Lopez-Gatell said on Tuesday countries around the world were repeating Mexico's
mistake in 2009, making decisions based on anxiety and social pressure rather
The lesson from the flu epidemic is that acting too soon is counterproductive,
he said. "Acting responsibly, we can't and should not take measures that exhaust
our society. Let's not use up all the interventions too soon. Let's keep our
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Richard Chang)
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