Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has unveiled a plan to reopen the country’s economy by June 1 as part of a “new normality” after several weeks of lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the reopening of economic, social and educational activities would be “cautious and gradual”, beginning with regions of the country least affected by the disease. The plan includes a “traffic light” coding system that will inform the public in different states which businesses and activities are safe to resume.
Lopez Obrador’s announcement came less than 24 hours after the country reported its deadliest day during the pandemic, with 353 deaths recorded on Tuesday.
More than 38,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Mexico, and at least 3,926 have died, according to official figures. But experts say the true numbers are likely much higher, as the country has not collected sufficient data on the disease nationwide, and has not put in place effective mitigation measures – making plans to reopen in the coming weeks potentially dangerous.
“With this crisis, Mexico has been essentially flying blind,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute.
Mexico has conducted 0.9 COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people, the lowest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Christopher Wilson, deputy director at the Mexico Institute of the Wilson Center, says the lack of data is a result of an ineffective “testing model” that Mexico has put in place, rather than too few tests, whereby the goal of any testing model is to provide officials with an overall sense of trajectories in different places around the country to enable leaders to make decisions.
“Their model for testing is designed to highlight basic trends without providing an accurate measure of the intensity of the pandemic in different places in Mexico,” Wilson told Al Jazeera. “The magnitude of the crisis in the hardest-hit areas of Mexico is huge and much more intense than what is being reported by the government officially,” he said.
Despite insufficient data, Deputy Minister of Health Hugo Lopez-Gatell announced on May 5 that Mexico had flattened the epidemic curve.
“Mexico was doubling the number of cases every five days, which is occurring every six days now,” Lopez-Gatell said during his daily coronavirus evening news conference, “so it is possible to say that the curve is flattening in the country.”
He added that the government’s “healthy distance” measures which encouraged citizens to stay at home, wear a mask in public and practise hygiene, had decreased cases by 60 to 75 percent.