MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has entered what the government calls “Phase 3” of the spread of the new coronavirus, the most serious stage, as transmission of the virus is intensifying, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Tuesday.
Mexico has registered 712 coronavirus deaths and 8,772 infections, with 511 new cases reported on Monday.
But health officials expect the real number to be substantially higher as Mexico has limited testing capacity. Lopez-Gatell on Thursday said the government’s “Sentinel Surveillance” mathematical model estimated there were 55,951 cases across the country.
Lopez-Gatell said the focus of Phase 3 is to further reduce movement of people in public spaces and that it was vital that Mexicans followed government’s social distancing instructions to prevent the country’s health system from being overwhelmed.
“Today we want to announce the start of ‘Phase 3’ of the COVID epidemic, remembering that we are in the phase of rapid spread where a large number of infections and hospitalizations are accumulated,” Lopez-Gatell said during the daily morning news conference held by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mexico’s leftist leader once again vowed that the country would not enforce “authoritarian” measures such as curfews, which other countries around the globe have implemented.
Mexico has extended government restrictions to contain the coronavirus until May 30 but plans to begin easing up restrictions from June 1 onwards if the current measures are successful.
Lopez-Gatell stressed that Mexico’s strategy is based on mitigation measures rather than an effort to extinguish the epidemic, which he said would require “freezing” the country for several years and could lead to an economic collapse.
President Lopez Obrador has placed shielding the poor at the heart of his economic response to the pandemic, but analysts say the government’s modest stimulus package pales in comparison with those of other nations in Latin America.
Mexican business groups have also been fiercely critical of the government’s financial response, saying it was insufficient as the country braces for what is expected to be its biggest recession in nearly a century.
(Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky)