Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday welcomed signs of an easing of the pandemic in his hard-hit nation, in stark contrast to the new wave of cases hitting other parts of Latin America.
"Covid-19 infections are falling. The harmful effects of the pandemic are decreasing across the country," Lopez Obrador said at his daily news conference.
"It's more encouraging. It's a breath of fresh air," he said.
"We still have to take very good care of ourselves, but it's good news," added the left-wing populist, who announced in February that he himself had overcome a coronavirus infection.
Mexico's official Covid-19 death toll of around 215,000 is the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Brazil, and the actual figure is believed to be significantly worse.
In contrast to many parts of the world, however, new cases and fatalities have declined since a surge in January that the authorities blamed on social gatherings around the New Year.
A few months ago, desperate families were queuing in the streets for oxygen for sick relatives and paramedics often struggled to find available hospital beds.
But the situation has gradually improved, unlike in other nations in the region such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador that are facing a new wave of infections.
- 'Magic number' -
Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico's coronavirus czar, said there had been 14 consecutive weekly declines in the estimated number of new infections, deaths and hospitalizations.
He said that the weekly number of deaths had dropped from 9,549 to 1,621 over the period, while hospitalizations had declined by 79 percent.
In contrast to countries such as Israel and the United States where there have been widespread vaccinations, the reason for Mexico's improvement is unclear, said Malaquias Lopez, professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Although the authorities' system of counting coronavirus infections and deaths is inadequate, the decline in the number of cases is real, he told AFP.
The improvement could be partly due to vaccinations and possible progress towards herd immunity, Lopez said.
"Studies are needed to show us the proportion of people with antibodies to have an idea of how close we are to the magic number of herd immunity after the virus ran rampant," he added.
The slowdown has led to an easing of lockdown measures in areas including Mexico City, where private offices were allowed to reopen on Monday with reduced occupancy for the first time in more than a year.
The improvement comes despite warnings last month of a possible new wave of infections after the Easter holidays around the start of April.
Lopez Obrador was accused of being slow to impose a lockdown early in the pandemic and criticized for rarely wearing a mask, but he continues to enjoy high public approval ratings.
The leftist leader points out that the Mexican government was one of the first in Latin America to start vaccinations, on December 24.
The country of 126 million has administered 16.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses so far, with priority given to public health workers and the elderly.
Immunizations of people aged 50 to 59 will begin in the first week of May, the authorities said.