Mexican president's Covid diagnosis stirs criticism of government

MEXICO CITY – The Mexican President’s announcement that he had Covid-19 just hours after a commercial flight reignited criticism of his handling of the pandemic, which left the country with the fourth highest death toll in the world.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has a history of heart problems and high blood pressure, said Sunday evening that he was being treated for mild symptoms of Covid-19 after attending meetings and public events in recent days.

The news crowned the deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, leaving questions unanswered as to how many people had been close to the president during his three-day visit to parts of northern and central Mexico.

“How irresponsible and careless of him just to get on a flight and know he might be infected,” said Jesús Ortega, former leader of the opposition Democratic Revolution (PRD) party and one-time ally of the president.

“The problem is that he is the president. If the president violates health guidelines, he sets a bad example to others,” said Ortega, wishing López Obrador a speedy recovery.

The government said López Obrador’s symptoms started on Sunday but it was not exactly clear when. The president announced his positive test result 6 1/2 hours after reaching the capital by plane from downtown San Luis Potosi.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez and Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez were among the top officials who were quick to say they had been running tests following his announcement. Others said they were self-isolating.

Sanchez said the 67-year-old president feels good and remains firmly in charge of the government.

“He will soon recover,” she said on Monday, advocating for him at one of the daily press conferences with which he has dominated Mexican politics since he took office a little more than two years ago.

On Monday afternoon, Lopez Obrador was resting at his official residence at the National Palace in Mexico City, still experiencing mild symptoms and not receiving supplemental oxygen, a senior official said.

Leading politicians weren’t the only ones in the president’s immediate orbit on his journey.

He was at a dinner at his former chief of staff Alfonso Romo’s house on Friday night, attended by some of Mexico’s top corporate titans. According to media reports, the guests included the chairman of the cement giant Cemex, Rogelio Zambrano, and Armando Garza Sada, chairman of the Alfa conglomerate.

Cemex did not comment on personal matters, a spokesman said. Alfa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mexico has recorded nearly 150,000 deaths in the pandemic, and Lopez Obrador’s crisis management has been heavily criticized by political opponents and medical experts.

On Monday, a senior World Health Organization official said the high rate of positive Covid-19 tests in Mexico has likely resulted in the country having too few people examined.

However, polls have shown that Lopez Obrador’s popularity rose in the pandemic, despite accusations of downplaying it too often and putting himself at risk.

Roy Campos, head of the polling agency Consulta Mitofsky, said the public response to the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis is likely to split on partisan lines, with supporters gathering behind Lopez Obrador and critics following him up.

However, with many Mexicans struggling to get medical care due to the congestion in hospitals, it could become a bigger problem if there are awkward revelations about when the president is feeling uncomfortable and how to act afterwards, Campos said.

Lopez Obrador found time Monday to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin to approve Mexico’s acquisition of 24 million doses of the Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine.

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