'He took a big risk': Mexicans say president pushed Covid luck

Natalia Cano
·3-min read

After months of refusing to wear a mask or abandon his cross-country tours, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's infection with the coronavirus was seen by many Mexicans as the price of tempting fate.

"He took a big risk by not wearing a face mask and going here and there," said Juan Rojo, a newspaper vendor in Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador, 67, was accused of downplaying the risks of the virus early in the pandemic, saying it was not as bad as the flu and telling people to keep hugging.

The leftwing populist, widely known by his initials AMLO, was criticized for being slow to impose a lockdown and for continuing to hold rallies and greet supporters.

He has worn a mask only on rare occasions, such as when he visited then US President Donald Trump in Washington last July, saying he prefers social distancing.

"I'll put on a mask. You know when? When there's no corruption," he once said.

His critics, and even some of his supporters, say he should have done more to lead by example.

Unless Lopez Obrador takes the necessary measures "nobody's going to listen to what he's telling us. No one's going to take it seriously," said Priscila Blanco, a student from Baja California in northern Mexico.

The former Mexico City mayor and self-styled anti-corruption crusader, who has been in power since 2018, has faced calls from his opponents to resign over his handling of the pandemic.

But he still enjoys solid approval ratings of above 60 percent.

- 'Recovering very well' -

Lopez Obrador, who has a history of heart problems and hypertension, announced Sunday that he was undergoing treatment for Covid-19 but said his symptoms were mild.

On Tuesday he was "recovering very well" and continuing to perform his duties from the National Palace, according to his interior minister, Olga Sanchez.

Lopez Obrador has continued his regional tours despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, both of which have set new daily records this month.

His symptoms are thought to have appeared over the weekend while he was on a trip to central and northern Mexico, raising concerns about how many people he might have infected.

"If he goes everywhere, he has to be protected and get vaccinated. Maybe he should have done that," said Rojo, the newspaper vendor.

Lopez Obrador has said that he will wait his turn to get the shot in February or March, when people over the age of 65 are scheduled to be immunized.

"He must take care of himself because he's an elderly person, but he travels here and there," said Carolina Garcia, a 37-year-old cleaner.

- 'Part of the risk' -

Mexico has officially registered nearly 1.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 152,000 deaths -- the world's fourth-highest fatality toll after the United States, Brazil and India.

As the human cost mounted, Lopez Obrador recognized the seriousness of the pandemic, which he has described as the biggest challenge he faces.

His government scrambled to acquire coronavirus vaccines and was the first country in Latin America to start a mass immunization program on December 24 using the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

Mexico has also authorized the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and has struck a deal to produce the drug in collaboration with Argentina.

On Monday Lopez Obrador said Mexico would acquire 24 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, although it has yet to be approved by Mexican health regulators.

He joins other world leaders, including Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron who have caught the virus.

For some Mexicans, it was almost inevitable.

"It's natural that it happened to him because he has many people around him. It's part of the risk that he faces in his position," says Gustavo Lozano, a 29-year-old lawyer.

nc-dr/ch/rbu