Instead of the 3,181 confirmed cases, there could be 26,519 people infected by COVID-19 in Mexico according to numbers presented by Hugo López-Gatell, Deputy Minister of Prevention and Health Promotion. Using the sentinel mathematical model, results show the COVID-19 pandemic could be over eight times larger that previously communicated, which would also apply to other countries that only report confirmed cases, says López-Gatell.
Mexico’s 174 deaths and 3,181 COVID-19 infections announced on April 8 stand in stark contract with the death toll of 14,788 and 440,000 confirmed infections in the US. With a median age of 28.3 years, the youth of Mexico’s 129 million population could reduce the mortality rate. However, the prevalence of chronic diseases associated with poor diet and lack of exercise is likely to counterbalance this positive factor. Some have raised questions about whether COVID-19 deaths are properly accounted for, but the lack of large-scale testing and the resulting absence of access to corresponding data are more likely the main reason behind these low numbers. Testing has taken place at a very small scale in Mexico, where only 29,578 people have been tested against at least a million by the end of March and 100,000 every day in the US, according to President Trump’s announcement on March 30.
The increase in testing has been for naught regarding the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.After losing 9.96 million jobs in the two preceding weeks, the US reported 6.6 million unemployment claims last week, which brought the total number of jobs lost to more than 16 million among a working population that stood at 155.8 million at the end of March.. This means that over 10 percent of the US workforce lost their jobs over the past three weeks.
With a population of 129 million people and 20,421,442 formal jobs at the end of 2019, according to IMSS, the country’s social security institute, Mexico lost 364,878 jobs between March 13 and April 6. This 1.8 percent drop in formal employment is likely the top of the iceberg of the pandemic, as this fails to consider the economic impact on the nearly 60 percent of the Mexican working population who are part of the informal economy. The much-criticized economic recovery plan announced by President Lopez Obrador last Sunday included a commitment to creating 2 million jobs before the end of the year without providing details on how this would be achieved. The president’s challenge will now be to create 2,364,878 new jobs.
Mexico’s economic recovery is not expected to start anytime soon. López-Gatell is predicting that the peak of infections will come in the first weeks of May, when Phase 3 is expected to be implemented. This means that Mexico’s health emergency, currently in place until April 30, is destined to be extended substantially. While Mexico has not ordered an official lockdown, the country recommends people not to leave their homes and practice social distancing when entering public spaces. This has not been taken to heart by the Mexican population according to Google’s mobility statistics. When benchmarked against Italy, Spain, the US, Brazil and Guatemala, Mexico ranks at the bottom of the list on mobility reductions at retail and recreation locations, groceries and pharmacies, transit stations and workplaces, while recording the smallest increase in mobility at residential locations. In short, mobility in public spaces has not diminished much and Mexicans have not committed to strict behavioral changes that helped countries such as Italy and Spain to pass the peak of the pandemic.
Given the lack of containment measures in place, Mexico’s number of COVID-19 cases is destined to grow exponentially in the coming weeks. The country may not have sufficient hospital beds, IC beds, ventilators, masks and other protective equipment and medical staff to meet the expected patient flow. All that can be done now is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Across Mexico’s public and private hospitals, Mexico has 121,400 hospital beds according to Mexico’s Ministry of Health. Of these, 22,050 are IC beds of which only 1,046 are in private hospitals. One of the main challenges to be COVID-19-ready will be having enough respirators to match those IC beds. To expand capacity, Mexico’s federal government has reached an agreement with at least 146 private hospitals to make 1,732 hospital beds available, part of which will be emergency beds to treat COVID-19 patients. Only 7 percent of Mexico’s population have private medical insurance.
Having more beds available does not address the fact that Mexico has the lowest number of healthcare workers per capita among OECD members. When benchmarked against Latin American countries, Mexico’s 20 to 29 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants place the country far behind Brazil, Chile Panama and Costa Rica, which all have over 100 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants. Whereas in other countries senior year students have temporarily joined the healthcare workforce, leading Mexican universities UNAM and IPN have removed their students from hospitals due to the shortage of medical devices such as face masks.
Shortages in masks, COVID-19 tests, gloves, goggles, scrubs and respirators remain widespread. Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard today announced that Mexico invested US$56.4 million in the purchase of medical equipment, including 11.5 million KN95 masks and 5,272 respirators, which will be delivered in 20 Aeroméxico flights. While this is a good starting point, more medical devices will be needed to ensure that Mexico’s healthcare workers and people in other critical jobs can continue to provide essential services throughout the coming weeks and months. Time is running out for Mexico to prepare properly to save its people and its economy.