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Mexico becomes fourth country to hit 100,000 Covid-19 deaths

Carmen Rosas (93) has her blood oxygen checked before being tested for COVID-19, in her home in the Venustiano Carranza borough of Mexico City, on November 19 2020. Picture by Rebecca Blackwell, AP
Diego Delgado, Associated Press

Mexico has passed the 100,000 mark in Covid-19 deaths, becoming only the fourth country to do so.

Jose Luis Alomia Zegarra, Mexico's director of epidemiology, said there were 100,104 confirmed Covid-19 deaths as of yesterday, leaving the country trailing just the United States, Brazil and India in terms of overall death toll.

The milestone comes less than a week after Mexico said it had topped 1 million registered coronavirus cases, though officials agree the number is probably much higher because of low levels of testing.

Coverage of the numbers has raised the hackles of president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who suggested that criticism of the country's pandemic polices are political attacks and compared critics to "vultures."

His administration has cast doubt on the usefulness of face masks - the president almost never wears one - and has defended its low rate of testing.

He asked: "Why change? Just because the ones who used to steal and loot don't like what we are doing or don't like seeing us in power."

Mexico's living are bearing the scars of the pandemic along with their lost friends and loved ones. Many surviving coronavirus victims say the psychosis caused by the pandemic is one of the most lasting effects.

Mexico resembles a divided country, where some people are so unconcerned they will not wear masks, while others are so scared they descend into abject terror at the first sign of shortness of breath.

The lack of testing - Mexico tests only people with severe symptoms and has performed only around 2.5 million tests in a country of 130 million - combined with the lack of hospitals in many areas and the fear of the ones that do exist, has created a fertile breeding ground for ignorance, suspicion and fear.

Daniel Alfredo Lopez Gonzalez described getting the disease himself. Even though he recovered, the fear was crushing.

"It is a tremendous psychosis. In the end, sometimes the disease itself may not be so serious, but it is for a person's psyche," Mr Lopez Gonzalez said.

"That is, knowing that you have a disease like this can kill you as bad as the disease itself."

But his sister, public health outreach worker Dulce Maria Lopez Gonzalez, whose job involves handing out free surgical masks to residents, has also seen the other side of the psychological maelstrom: those who do not care.

"I saw this person who I had given a mask to, and I told her she shouldn't be outside without it," she recalled. "She told me that no, nothing was going to happen to her. Two weeks later we found out she had died of Covid."

Mexico's assistant health secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell bristled when asked about Mexico reaching the 100,000 deaths point.

He criticised the media for "being alarmist" in focusing on the figure, in the same way he has criticised those who suggest the government is undercounting the deaths, those who have questioned the country's low testing rate or the government's contradictory and weak advice on using face masks.

"The epidemic is terrible in itself, you don't have to add drama to it," he said, suggesting some media outlets were focusing on the number of deaths to sell newspapers or spark "political confrontation".

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