Tourism hotspots are driving a surge in Mexico’s new Covid-19 wave

Active cases have doubled in under a week to reach over 46,000, led by Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo and the capital

Tourists on New Year's Day in Acapulco, in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
Tourists on New Year's Day in Acapulco, in the Mexican state of Guerrero.David Guzmán (EFE)

A new wave of Covid-19 infections is spreading throughout Mexico, driven mainly by the large number of people in high-density tourist areas. The daily bulletin released on January 2 by the Secretariat of Health reported a total of 46,045 active cases, which is to say people that began to display symptoms as of December 20, 2021. Sunday’s figure is double what was reported on December 28, when the official estimate stood at just under 23,000 new cases. Mexico, which saw out 2021 exceeding a total of 10,000 daily infections, rang in the New Year in the midst of a global emergency generated by the omicron variant, which is more contagious than other strains with uncertainty remaining as to its potential seriousness among unvaccinated and medically vulnerable people.

The state of Baja California Sur, where tourist destinations such as Los Cabos attract tens of thousands of tourists, many of them from overseas and particularly from the USA, has registered 4,185 new infections, a significant jump over the data from just a few days earlier. Other hotspots are emerging in the Caribbean regions. The state of Quintana Roo, the most populous city of which is Cancún, was already reporting cases of omicron a week ago, according to the tracking of patients from Paraguay. Mexico City, as per the data released by the Secretariat of Health, is also among the worst-affected areas. The capital is followed by the states of Baja California, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, Yucatán, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Zacatecas.

The presence of omicron in tourist areas has not prevented the government from allowing cruise ships to dock in Mexico’s ports despite carrying passengers infected with coronavirus

While still some way short of data registered in Mexico during the darkest hours of the pandemic and the numbers being recorded in several European countries, these figures represent a substantial increase compared to the past few weeks, when the majority of Mexico’s 32 federal entities barely imposed any restrictions. Health authorities elected against taking additional measures beyond the general recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as social distancing and the use of face masks, and with the exceptions of some border areas.

The presence of the omicron strain in tourist areas such as Los Cabos and Cancún has not prevented the government from also allowing cruise ships to dock in Mexico’s ports despite carrying passengers who were infected with coronavirus. Some politicians like Claudia Sheinbaum, the head of government of Mexico City, did adopt some additional measures ahead of the New Year’s celebrations. In the capital, for example, a planned concert by the musical group Los Ángeles Azules was called off, although the advance of the latest wave of the virus has led various government agencies to reconsider their recommendations.

The Civil Service Social Security and Services Institute (ISSSTE) issued guidelines to the heads of general and regional hospitals and other medical centers on January 2 urging them to prepare themselves for a surge. “Stemming from the constant increase in cases with mild clinical and ambulatory symptoms in the country in recent days, [everything] indicates that we are facing the fourth wave of Covid-19 in our country,” stated the document, which was published by Mexico City-based newspaper El Universal. “We know that the omicron variant has a higher transmission speed than previous variants and that it causes a larger number of mild cases,” said the ISSSTE. As such, the Institute has called on hospitals to prepare to increase the number of available beds.

The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which from the outset has sought to downplay “disproportionate” fears over the omicron variant, has rolled out booster jabs for the over-60s and also to medical personnel in some states. The Secretariat of Health stated on Sunday that “Mexico began the year with 81, 916, 395 people vaccinated since the beginning of the National Vaccination Strategy against Covid-19,” which was initiated in late December 2020. Of that number, almost 73 million people are fully vaccinated, which represents nearly 90% of the total number of people who have received a vaccine. Overall, the government stated, 148.9 million doses have been administered. However, Mexico remains behind other countries in the region in this regard, where vaccination rates have been accelerating after the initial obstacles over supply and roll-out were overcome.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Mexico, which has a population of 126 million, has recorded 3.9 million coronavirus cases and 299,000 fatalities.

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