Mexican government underreporting COVID-19 deaths in Mexico City: NYT

Mexican government underreporting COVID-19 deaths in Mexico City: NYT
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The Mexican government has underreported COVID-19 deaths tallied by local authorities, particularly in Mexico City, distorting the gravity of the pandemic in the country, according to The New York Times.

Uncounted coronavirus deaths in Mexico City alone could rise to 2,500, almost as many as the 3,000 nationwide deaths the federal government has attributed to the virus, according to the analysis. The López Obrador administration says only about 700 people have died of COVID-19 in the nation's capital.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's response to the global pandemic has come under intense domestic and international criticism. He initially refused to acknowledge the extent of the crisis, and has continued to minimize its potential economic impact.

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López Obrador, who controls a comfortable majority in both houses of Congress and entered the crisis with a soaring approval rating, has called the crisis a "godsend" and moved to grant himself emergency powers to amend the country's budget without legislative consent.

But the disconnect between the capital and the central government presents a challenge for López Obrador's 17-month-old presidency, pitting him against one of his most powerful allies, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.

While Sheinbaum has not publicly criticized the federal response to the crisis, the Times reported that city officials have been ordered to place calls to local public hospitals to get a credible tally on contagion and deaths.

Sheinbaum is not alone in questioning the López Obrador administration's capacity to quantify the crisis or the veracity of its tallies.

A growing number of hospitalizations and deaths have been classified as "atypical pneumonia," leading many to speculate that those were coronavirus cases.

Speaking at a videoconference forum Thursday with other former federal health secretaries, Julio Frenk — Mexico's health secretary from 2000 to 2006 — panned the López Obrador administration for politicizing health statistics.

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"Everyone agrees those deaths declared as atypical pneumonia were actually COVID-19. There's a loss of credibility, which is very grave," said Frenk, who is now president of the University of Miami. "The numbers that are given, everyone agrees, are not correct both in the number of cases and the number of deaths."

Another former health secretary — José Narro, who is now rector of Mexico's National Autonomous University — estimates there have been more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19 in the country. The official count is just above 27,000.

Narro said statistics in Mexico are skewed due to the low testing rate.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mexico is far behind in testing, with a paltry 0.4 tests per 1,000 population. The average for developed and industrialized nations is 22.9 per 1,000.

In a video interview Friday with El Heraldo newspaper, Narro said the federal government is behind the curve in counting COVID-19 cases.

Narro said nearly 35 percent of all registered cases and 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in the country had been counted in the past seven days, suggesting cases were not being adequately tallied before then.

"I'm not saying [the information] was intentionally hidden. What I'm saying is it wasn't sought out," said Narro.