Mexico leader urges calm after jump in reported COVID deaths

MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged the country to remain calm Thursday as Mexico registered the second straight day of escalating coronavirus death numbers that rivaled those coming out of Brazil or the United States.

The Health Department announced 816 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, one day after officials reported a toll of 1,092 deaths, which was more than double the highest previous toll reported in a single day. Officials said an additional 1,033 suspected COVID-19 deaths were awaiting confirmation, suggesting daily tolls would remain high.

Newly confirmed coronavirus cases also continued to rise by record amounts, with 4,442 reported Thursday.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell sought to allay fears over the new numbers, saying that daily deaths had peaked May 17. He said many of the COVID-19 deaths reported this week actually occurred in May but were not tallied until now because of backlogs in reporting or testing.

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But with total deaths standing at 12,545, he acknowledged the pandemic could wind up costing as many as 35,000 lives in Mexico, local media reported. The country has recorded 105,680 cases so far.

Experts said the reason for this week’s sudden jump in deaths was attributable to a number of factors, including confirmation and inclusion of deaths stretching back as far as 25 days. But the country is also passing through the pandemic’s most critical moment with a dramatically increasing number of confirmed and suspected infections.

“Let there not be psychosis, let there not be fear,” López Obrador said Thursday from Chiapas, while also accusing the press of fanning fears.

The jump in reported deaths came in the first week after the federal government’s official social distancing period ended as the president continued a week-long tour trying to reactivate the economy. López Obrador said he would recommend tightened measures if there is a surge in infections.

Despite the drive to re-open, the governor of Oaxaca state announced he was asking residents to practice “total isolation” in the colonial capital city, also known as Oaxaca, from Friday through June 15 to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Alejandro Murat said people in Oaxaca city and surrounding areas should leave home “only for emergencies, health or food issues.”

Before this week, Mexico had largely seen daily death tolls of 300 to 400, after seeing the previous one-day high of 501 deaths May 26. The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for additional information Thursday.

Dr. Mauricio Rodríguez, a professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University’s medical school, said there could be a number of explanations for the sudden jump in deaths.

The federal government depends on reporting from the states and from different branches of the public health system and there are often delays, he said. There are also delays at the laboratories and hospitals themselves, especially as the country’s caseload increases significantly. Medical staff in hospitals are going to devote more time to treating the patients in front of them rather than submitting the data that is collected for the federal government, he said, noting that most medical records are still handwritten.

Significant jumps in death statistics have been seen in other countries during the pandemic.

But asked if Wednesday’s number was just an anomaly, Rodríguez said Mexico could see similar totals in coming days.

“I believe that we are in a stage of the epidemic in which we are probably going to be seeing that type of number daily during this week, maybe the next,” Rodríguez said.

“When there are more cases, there are going to be more deaths,” Rodríguez said. “We can’t be afraid to say that.”

Rodríguez and government officials say that deaths are an indication of what was happening with the epidemic days in the past, following the start of a person’s illness, their hospitalization and ultimately their death. For the current state of affairs, hospital occupancy and active cases tend to be better indications.

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Associated Press writer María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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