Top Mexican official warns coronavirus crisis could last until October

Jude Webber reports from Mexico City

Mexico’s coronavirus tally rose to 251 confirmed and 697 suspected cases on Saturday with two deaths as the health official in charge of managing the national response warned that the epidemic could last until October.

Hugo López-Gatell, health undersecretary, said on Twitter that Mexico was still in the first phase – which he has said is imported rather than local contagion – but he was bringing forward measures due in the second phase “because of what we have learned in other countries, which took action a little after the inflection point”.

However, Mexico has only conducted a small number of tests and critics say the government is too relaxed about the scale of the looming health and economic crisis.

From Monday, Mexico is closing schools and launching a “healthy distance” campaign. “Thanks to these measures, we will manage to reduce the number of daily cases,” Dr López-Gatell said.

But he added: “We have to prepare ourselves for a long epidemic. Even if in August the number of cases starts to fall, this can go on until October.”

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been widely criticised for playing down the gravity of Covid-19, continuing to kiss children, hug supporters and hold mass rallies and for putting his faith in religious talismans to protect him.

But on Friday, after arriving for a weekend tour of the southern state of Oaxaca, he posted an image of himself with a little girl and said: “I’d like to cover her in kisses, but I can’t because of the safe distance”.

A local referendum on whether a $1.4bn brewery project by Constellation Brands – maker of the Corona beer – should be built in Mexicali, near the US border, went ahead on Saturday.

The poll continues on Sunday and Mr López Obrador says it will be binding, meaning that if residents worried about the plant’s water use win, the project will be halted despite being 65 per cent built.

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