LA PAZ, Mexico – COVID-19 infections are on the rise across Mexico, particularly in two states with major Caribbean and Pacific Ocean tourism destinations that have been busy during the holiday season.
According to federal government data, Quintana Roo, where tourists flock to Cancun, Tulum, and other locations along the Mayan Riviera, and Baja California Sur, which draws beachgoers to Los Cabos’ two Pacific resorts, are seeing some of their highest infection rates since the beginning of the year Pandemic.
During the holidays, the boardwalk and beaches of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez, were packed with tourists. They were closed at the beginning of the pandemic.
Further south in Los Cabos, the hotels were occupied to 75 percent during the Christmas week, according to the Federal Ministry of Tourism.
“In December and January tourism picked up speed,” said Isrrael Coto, manager of a hotel-restaurant in La Ventana, about 20 miles south of La Paz. “People are fed up with captivity.”
The infections also skyrocketed. Baja California Sur recorded 700 new infections on December 29, compared to a previous high of less than 600 in July.
On the opposite coast, Quintana Roo rose from 27 cases on December 20 to 484 eight days later, but stayed below its one-day high of 574 in August.
“This new variant (Omicron) is very contagious, but fortunately does not require hospitalization, nor do we have increasing deaths,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday.
Mexico experienced its worst moments of the pandemic a year earlier, when hospitals were overwhelmed and test-confirmed Covid-19 deaths exceeded 1,400 daily. The actual numbers were certainly even higher due to the limited testing.
“There’s a little nervousness,” he said. “The vaccine helped a little in reassurance, but still.”
Daniela Yepiz, a stylist in La Paz, said concerns seem to have increased after infections rose in the days after Christmas, citing many cancellations. “People stopped coming,” she said.
Health Minister Jorge Alcocer said recent studies seem to suggest that the proliferation of vaccines, while new varieties exist, could mitigate the virus’ most serious effects. He stressed that this was still just a hypothesis.
Mexico has vaccinated 88 percent of adults and has started giving a third dose to the elderly and health workers. Teachers will start receiving the booster in the coming days.
“We are no longer as concerned as we used to be because most of the people are vaccinated,” said Arturo González Ledesma, a doctor at Ajusco Medio Hospital in Mexico City, which has specialized in COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. “Only in the unvaccinated do you see the face of terror.”
González encouraged people to be careful. “We shouldn’t say we’ll get out yet.”
The surge in infections caused a dozen of Mexico’s 32 states to delay returning to classes after the holidays. While many students in the country returned to school on Monday, these other states, including Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, delayed the start to January 17.
Meanwhile, local governments are stepping up their testing efforts again. Long lines were visible in front of the Covid-19 test centers in La Paz this week. Mexico City announced Tuesday that it is expanding testing times at health centers and reopening test kiosks across the city to double capacity to approximately 23,400 tests daily.
Large population centers such as the state of Mexico, which includes many suburbs of the capital, as well as Guadalajara and Monterrey, are also seeing rising infections. Mexico is approaching 300,000 test-confirmed Covid-19 deaths, although the real number of Covid-19 deaths is closer to 450,000, according to government figures.