Mexico president rebuked for careless response to Covid after testing positive

David Agren in Mexico City
·3 min read

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, declared at the weekend that his country was nearing the end of the coronavirus crisis, telling supporters that “little lights” at the end of the tunnel could already be seen.

The next day he tested positive for Covid-19, throwing the country into tumult – and prompting fresh criticisms of his cavalier response to a disease that has killed nearly 150,000 citizens.

Related: Covid fatalities soar in Mexico as president condemned for inaction

Throughout the pandemic, López Obrador – popularly known as Amlo – has been condemned for his seemingly carefree behaviour: he has consistently downplayed the severity of the crisis, continued to tour the country and has has rarely been seen wearing a mask.

“It’s as if Amlo sought out [infection],” said Rodolfo Soriano-Núñez, a Mexico City sociologist, using a common reference for the president. “He’s been really careless.”

The diagnosis arrived at a grim moment for Mexico. The daily death toll has topped more than 1,000 for much of January, and Mexico is is expected to overtake India shortly to become third on the list of hardest-hit countries.

The president’s political allies responded to his positive test with outpourings of support for a president who has remained popular, in spite of the pandemic’s awful impact.

Some of the expressions descended into fanaticism – “Why not give me Covid instead of Andrés Manuel,” tweeted Beatriz Castillo, a pro-Amlo writer. On social media, Amlo supporters piled on to rebuke posts observing Amlo’s refusal to wear a mask.

“Most Amlo supporters – though not all of them – seem to be much more concerned with defending him than they are about the soundness of his policies to protect the health of their fellow Mexicans,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics.

“There is not even a shadow of civic duty or critical consciousness in their reactions. They are just militants and sycophants.”

Amlo announced his positive test Sunday night after flying back from the north-central city of San Luis Potosí. Videos on social media showed him boarding the plane like any other passenger, raising questions over when the president received his diagnosis during a busy day of public events and meetings.

The president, who has a history of cardiac issues and was a heavy smoker before he suffered a massive heart attack in 2013, said he has “light symptoms” and was receiving medical attention. He has insisted his health has been fine since taking office and he speaks often of avoiding bad habits like eating junk food.

Despite his age and high blood pressure, López Obrador has not received a vaccine shot, although Mexico has received batches of Pfizer-BioNTech doses.

He promised to continue working, though for the first time in two years he skipped his daily morning press conference which he normally uses to rebut criticism and spreading sunny messages that Mexico has already passed the worst.

Related: Mexico faces challenge to light-touch Covid approach as US restricts travel

His stand-in at Monday’s press conference was interior minister Olga Sánchez Cordero who said Amlo was feeling well and remains firmly in charge of the government.
“He will recover soon,” said Sánchez Cordero, who was not wearing a mask.

Senior officials were tested and several went into self-isolation after the diagnosis.

“The reality is they must be very worried about his health,” Bárbara González, a political analyst in Monterrey, said of the president’s supporters. “There’s no ‘Obradorismo’ without Obrador.”