Editor’s note: Roberto Velasco Álvarez, a spokesman for the Mexican government, has taken issue with an op-ed published by Asia Times on April 14. His remarks are below, followed by a response from Manuel Suárez-Mier, the writer of the original op-ed.
The April 14 opinion piece by Manuel Suárez-Mier, Mexico’s demolition derby accelerates, does not correctly inform your readers about how Mexico is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mexican government has acted swiftly to address each stage of the pandemic. Its response has been based on scientific evidence and on the recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has commended Mexico’s response.
Mexico began its social-distancing and stay-at-home measures much earlier on the epidemiological curve than many other countries. For example, Mexico declared a national public health emergency and the complete suspension of economic activity on March 19, with 118 confirmed cases and 17 deaths – a much lower number than in other countries when they took similar measures.
Mexico closed schools on March 20, when there were 164 confirmed Covid-19 cases nationwide. All non-essential government employees were sent home on March 23, when there were only 316 cases.
Mexico is acting with professionalism in the way it collects data, which is presented with complete transparency every night at a press conference with an extensive question and answer session.
Mexico has incorporated Covid-19 surveillance into its Influenza Sentinel Surveillance System, established in 2006. This system, recognized by the WHO, monitors epidemiological trends and identifies risk thresholds, triggering alerts, estimating the disease burden and calculating the demands on the healthcare system with great precision.
Not only in Mexico, but all around the world, health authorities have warned of the existence of asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Far from “hiding the true number of people infected,” Mexico’s Health Ministry has been announcing both the number of confirmed cases and the number of estimated cases provided by the Sentinel model. The Mexican government is fully committed to transparency, particularly at this challenging time.
Mexico has been preparing for the most critical phase of the pandemic. It has shifted budgetary funds to the health-care system. It has converted public and military facilities into exclusively Covid-19 hospitals and has ramped up the hiring and training of doctors and nurses. At this time, there is an airlift operating between Mexico and China to provide the country with the equipment it needs, including tons of personal protective equipment, ventilators and monitors.
Under the current administration, Mexico’s health system is being expanded. Late last year, the new government reformed the law to ensure universal coverage, with free services and medicines for the uninsured, to address a long-standing social need that had been ignored by previous administrations. In order to be better equipped to deal with the health emergency, the Mexican government secured a partnership with the private health-care sector to significantly enhance the national medical system.
We know the pandemic will have a negative effect on the Mexican economy. No country has been immune to its economic effects. Therefore, the government has announced a series of relief measures to help the country recover, including 1 million soft loans for small businesses in Mexico.
Mexico is about to enter the most critical phase of the epidemic. Unfortunately, the number of cases and deaths will increase. Now, more than ever, people need complete and accurate information about what Mexico is doing to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the health of all Mexicans and on the country’s economy.
At every step of the way, President Andres Manuel López Obrador has led a proactive response, not a reactive one. We are dealing with the pandemic decisively to protect the health and well-being of all Mexicans and will continue to do so, with complete transparency and absolute commitment to our citizens.
Roberto Velasco Álvarez is director general of public affairs, Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Manuel Suárez-Mier responds:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico confuses facts and fiction. It enumerates all the things that it wished it had done, pure fiction, with the hard facts that are on the record in numerous media reports.
For example, it doesn’t mention the fact that Mexico is the country with fewer tests for the coronavirus per person than any other, except India and Brazil, well-known laggards in their response to the pandemic. Mexico’s rate is 311 tests per million people, compared with 19,000 in Italy and 14,000 in Spain.
The ministry ignores the fact that even the official in charge of fighting the pandemic recognized only last week that he estimated that the true number of people infected was 10 times the official, fictitious number of 5,900. And it ignores the fact that the president himself patently ignores the advice that his health authorities give the population, thus setting with his reckless behavior a bad example for his countrymen.
Manuel Suárez-Mier is an economist-in-residence at the American University in Washington, and a consultant on financial and economic issues of Latin American nations. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago.