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Mexico City (AFP)
A steady decline in coronavirus cases and rising levels of immunity to vaccination or infection suggest the worst of the pandemic may be over for hard-hit Mexico, experts say.
The improvement has led to a gradual easing of lockdown measures, allowing children to return to classrooms and spectators to return to sports stadiums and wrestling tournaments.
The outlook “is encouraging,” said epidemiologist Alejandro Macias, who led Mexico’s fight against the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
Another major wave of infections across the country now seems unlikely, although there is a risk of limited outbreaks in areas with low immunity, he told AFP.
Mexico’s confirmed Covid-19 death toll of more than 222,000 is the fourth highest in the world, and the government recognizes that the actual figure is likely much higher.
Deaths “associated with Covid-19” were estimated at more than 337,000 as of March 15, according to excess mortality figures released by the government.
But after a surge in infections in January, the number of deaths and hospitalizations fell for 20 straight weeks.
“The pandemic continues to lose steam,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said this week, adding that there was no reason to fear a major resurgence.
– Natural immunity –
On January 20, Mexico recorded a peak of about 1,800 deaths per day, with an average of 1,180 deaths per day during the previous week.
This has now fallen to an average of around 200 per day.
“Many people have already been infected and are immune. There are fewer people left to be infected with the virus,” Macias said.
Another major factor is that many of those most at risk over the age of 60 have now been vaccinated.
In May, the government also started vaccinating people aged 50 to 59 and said it expects vaccine stocks to increase in the coming weeks.
Mexico’s health regulator on Thursday added the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the list of vaccines approved for emergency use.
“Although the vaccination is slow, it gradually strengthens immunity,” Macias said.
The government aims to have everyone over 18 vaccinated by October.
So far, more than 20 million people, or 22% of all adults, have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and around 12 million are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry.
Others have gone to the United States to be vaccinated, taking advantage of its more advanced vaccination campaign, which is said to have also helped reduce cross-border infections.
The fact that “the United States is in control of the epidemic also benefits us,” said Mauricio Rodriguez, a member of a commission set up by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to monitor the pandemic.
The onset of spring is also believed to have helped as coronaviruses spread more easily in winter, experts have said.
– Caribbean Hotspot –
Mexico has recorded 2.4 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, of which nearly 17,000 are active.
But it’s believed to be just the tip of the iceberg due to limited testing in the country of 126 million people.
Malaquias Lopez, an epidemiologist at UNAM, said infections could now occur in younger people who do not require hospitalization because they do not become seriously ill.
“It is very difficult to interpret the numbers in Mexico because very little testing is done,” he said.
This month, Mexico City rose to yellow status, the second lowest of the country’s four traffic light systems, which led to further easing of pandemic restrictions.
The government authorized the return of schoolchildren to classrooms in the capital from June 7.
Fans have been allowed to return to baseball and football games in limited numbers, and legendary Mexican wrestlers “lucha libre” are once again performing in front of spectators in the capital.
A hotspot of the virus is the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, home to a series of Caribbean resorts, where rising infections have increased the risk of a return to strict lockdown measures.
© 2021 AFP