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New US coronavirus travel restrictions are likely to have an outsized impact on Mexico, which is also struggling with an uncontrolled outbreak of the virus and record-breaking deaths.
Among Joe Biden’s flurry of executive orders on Thursday was a new set of rules requiring all travelers entering the US by sea, air or land to show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test and self-quarantine or self-isolate after entry. The executive action also instructs federal officials to work with the governments of Mexico and Canada to draw up a coordinated plan for border crossings.
Until now, Mexico has also been a world outlier in refusing to implement restrictions on international air passengers, as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pushes a light-touch response to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, hospitals have been overwhelmed by surging case numbers, and this week Mexico set two daily coronavirus death records.
But even as fatalities soared, the country has cornered the market in offering restriction-free travel to international tourists. During the winter holidays foreign and domestic tourists flocked to beach resorts and other prime destinations.
The new US rules – and similar measures introduced this month by Canada – may finally nudge Mexican policymakers to embrace the science – or face a loss of tourism and international mobility.
But developing a coordinated approach with Mexico may prove difficult: López Obrador has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, and after building an unexpectedly positive relationship with Donald Trump, has been standoffish with the incoming US administration.
Mexican health officials have refused to implement a number of evidence-based pandemic response measures, such as mass testing. (Despite the severity of its outbreak, Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.)
Dr Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, director of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at Mexico’s Autonomous National University (Unam), believes the country’s failure to establish an adequate testing network will make complying with new US travel requirements a challenge.
“Simply meeting the demand of passengers traveling abroad is going to be a terrible problem when testing capacity isn’t up to the necessary level,” Ximénez-Fyvie said. “The numbers just don’t add up because the testing capacity in Mexico is far too low.”
Together the US and Canada make up the lion’s share of Mexico’s economically important international tourism sector. Mexico is also home to the largest population of US citizens living abroad.
Travelers to Mexico must fill out a health questionnaire, but there are no testing requirements for entry, nor rules for quarantine upon arrival. Without a government lead, private companies are scrambling to meet demand.
Federal data shows the state of Quintana Roo – home to Cancún – usually only reports hundreds of test results a day.
Adolfo Castro, CEO of Aeropuertos del Sureste (Asur), which operates the tourist hub’s busy international airport, noted the new rule would significantly and rapidly increase demand. “If you add to the normal situation 15,000 [air passengers] a day, then you have to do something and you have to react.”
The Quintana Roo state government has recently opened temporary testing sites in the resort cities of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Castro’s company is in talks with local hotels to help passengers get tested in the 72-hour window before their departure flights. He is also looking for an accredited lab to conduct on-site antigen testing at the airport.
The new testing requirements have also fueled speculation that non-accredited labs or doctors who cater to tourist demands for prescriptions may create a new black market in falsified test results or medical documentation.
Dr Ximénez-Fyvie said Mexico’s extensive networks of public and private labs could easily cover the demand for ramped-up testing, but what was lacking were the materials for processing the tests and political will to coordinate the effort.
“It’s not that we don’t have the resources or the abilities or the infrastructure,” said Ximénez-Fyvie. “The problem here has been the lack of willingness to see that it gets done.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Mexico faces challenge to light-touch Covid approach as US restricts travel | Global development