Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been slammed for disregarding his own government's social distancing guidelines to stem the growing coronavirus pandemic: AMLO, as he is called, has continued to hold mass rallies where he shakes hands and even greets supporters with hugs and kisses.
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón warned on Twitter that López-Obrador "could be a source of contagion. ... If out of 300 people he greets, one is infected, he can infect the rest of the healthy people."
López-Obrador was criticized by a blogger, Frida García, for being "irresponsible," after he declined to use hand sanitizer before entering a room to hold a news conference.
There, he characterized pre-emptive measures the country is taking, like suspending school, as "vacations."
This weekend, Mexico’s health ministry introduced an initiative called “Sana Distancia” or “Healthy Distance” aimed at getting the public to avoid infecting one another by practicing social distancing. Schools are suspended starting March 23.
Mexico has over 50 confirmed coronavirus cases. For now it has taken a less stringent approach to the virus than some of its neighbors; its borders are still open and it's not restricting foreign visitors yet. Over the weekend, a large music festival was held in Mexico City, and soccer games still had fans in attendance.
López-Obrador, 66, said that if health officials recommend that he suspend encounters with the public, he will follow the order, but added there is no need to go around with a face mask.
He said that he would take a coronavirus test if doctors asked him to, but that it would prompt everyone to do the same, overwhelming laboratories.
Mexico's deputy health minister, Hugo López-Gatell, defended López-Obrador’s actions and has not said when he should stop holding rallies.
During a news conference Tuesday, López-Gatell said it’s important not to “contaminate” the coronavirus outbreak with a “political agenda” and focus on information that is “technical” and “reasonable.”
He was echoing López-Obrador’s claim that political adversaries were trying to exploit concerns over the virus to hurt him politically.
Yet the practice of social distancing — including in some cases strict quarantine measures — is, according to health experts around the globe, the best way to try to contain the growing and deadly pandemic.
Carlos Loret De Mola, a columnist in Mexico's largest newspaper, El Universal, wrote on Tuesday that the country's financial, educational and private sector had pretty much disregarded all of the president's comments downplaying the spread and impact of coronavirus.
"For the world, for Mexican society and even for his own Cabinet, the president has been overruled," Loret de Mola wrote.
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Mexico's neighbors to the south, have taken strict measures to limit the spread of the virus. El Salvador suspended all passenger flights to San Salvador, and Guatemala closed all its borders. Honduras is in near lockdown after the government sent public and private sector workers home, ended flights and suspended public transportation.