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Mexico under international criticism for coronavirus response

International observers and opposition leaders are warning that Mexico's government is failing to take the coronavirus crisis seriously, risking a major eruption just as the rest of the world takes drastic steps to recover.

The country's hands-off approach has already sparked tensions with El Salvador, whose president blocked a flight Monday from Mexico City to San Salvador, citing subpar sanitary safeguards in Mexico.

In a discussion played out over Twitter, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard debated the Mexican government's capacity to immediately diagnose several of the plane's passengers.

The discussion ended with Bukele "begging [Mexico] to take drastic and overwhelming measures amid this pandemic, Mexico is a very big country and so should be its responsibility."

"Otherwise, in 20 days the epicenter of this pandemic will not be Europe, but North America," added Bukele. "Stop looking at this as something normal, please."


The Mexican federal government has refused to impose national sanitary measures, instead relying on a public service announcement campaign to promote social distancing and hand washing.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has drawn the ire of many observers by continuing his campaign-style rallies where he often walks into the audience to hug and kiss his supporters.

One image where López Obrador appears to playfully bite a young girl's cheek has been especially poorly received.

"[López Obrador] is under fire for his blasé attitude about the coronavirus. He is leaving border states and towns picking up the slack. Many won’t be able to do so," wrote Adam Isacson, the director of defense oversight for the Washington Office on Latin America in an email to The Hill.

While a handful of Mexican states have imposed stricter measures like immediate school closures, at the federal level children will still be required to attend school until Monday, when an early spring break will begin.

Some Mexican states are in a better position to fend for themselves, but in others, including Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, the situation is less clear.

Isacson, a Latin American security specialist, wrote that he doesn't "even have a good sense of what local authorities are doing and whether the security situation will hamper response."

Tamaulipas, a state that includes the border cities of Matamoros, across from Brownsville; Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo; and Reynosa, across from McAllen, has been among the states hardest hit states by narco violence and long waits for prospective U.S. asylum seekers in camps.

"And then there’s the situation in the migrant shelters and camps where the tens of thousands of victims of metering and Remain in Mexico are," wrote Isacson, referring to the Trump administration's asylum policies that have fueled the growth of refugee camps along the Mexican side of the international border.

"It will be an absolute miracle if the virus doesn’t sweep through those shelters and camps like a genuine plague. And I don’t see preparations for that underway. When chicken pox swept through the Mexican government shelter in Juarez over the holidays, they just closed it for a few days. I don’t see what good that will do," he added.

Even as critics accuse the government of underplaying the situation, the official count of infections rose drastically, from 53 Sunday to 82 Monday, hinting at a rising wave of contagion.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a close ally of López Obrador, has refused to shut down large gatherings.

Over the weekend, a massive music festival known as the Vive Latino took place in the Mexican capital, and Sheinbaum refused to say whether she'll shut down a reenactment of the Passion of Christ that's been held for the last 177 years in the eastern borough of Iztapalapa, according to el Heraldo newspaper.

But the Mexican federal government has cut down activities in its 50 consulates across the United States to a bare minimum.

According to a Mexican Embassy spokesman, the world's largest single-country consular network has most of its employees working from home and is only providing emergency services as needed.

And Mexican sanitary authorities have been meeting to discuss the crisis with U.S. and Canadian counterparts.

According to the spokesman, a teleconference between U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Mexican Health Secretary Dr. Jorge Carlos Alcocer Varela and Canadian Minister of Health Patty Hajdu was scheduled for Tuesday but will be held instead on Thursday.