Mexicans Are Worried Their Coronavirus Response Is Too Little, Too Late

Mar 26, 2020
Originally published on March 27, 2020 2:43 pm
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Mexico has told its large federal workforce to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. On Monday the government also closed down schools. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, many Mexicans are worried measures taken this week may be too little too late.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has spent the past several weeks urging people not to get ahead of the game. He repeatedly said it's not time to implement drastic measures that would hurt Mexico's economy, which is technically in recession. As late as Sunday, he posted a video telling Mexicans to take their families out to restaurants.

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PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We Mexicans, because of our culture, we have always been tough. And we will get through this, he said. After falling poll numbers and a barrage of criticism in the international and national press, Lopez Obrador has taken a more somber tone this week. He enlisted the military support, told the federal workforce except for essential personnel to stay home and put a limit on large gatherings. While dismissing critics as politically motivated, he's left his health official, Dr. Hugo Lopez Gatell, to defend the country's strategy for combating COVID-19, which he does in nightly briefings.

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HUGO LOPEZ-GATELL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Lopez-Gatell says Mexico didn't wait as long as other countries to launch social distancing after diagnosing its first case, and he points to Mexico's low number of confirmed cases - fewer than 500 with six fatalities - as proof that Mexico is doing things right. But Mexico also is not doing a lot of testing. To date, it has performed fewer than 4,000. Instead, officials say they are using statistical modeling together with targeted testing to keep track of the virus' spread. Alberto Diaz-Cayeros, the director at Stanford's Latin American Studies department, says he understands the government's logic, especially when resources are tight.

ALBERTO DIAZ-CAYEROS: But at the same time, it is a very risky bet in terms of how bad things could get if they got it wrong.

KAHN: Getting it wrong is what is concerning local and state officials throughout Mexico who are not convinced the president's plan is enough. This week the governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro, ordered 20,000 test kits to start massive testing in his western state, which includes the resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

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ENRIQUE ALFARO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We will not just sit here with our arms crossed, he said.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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