Mexico’s coronavirus chief ducks calls to resign as country’s death count overtakes U.K.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Mexico’s massive market stirs coronavirus worries' Coronavirus outbreak: Mexico’s massive market stirs coronavirus worries
Mexico City's giant Central de Abasto market is worrying health officials and residents, but authorities say it can stay open to prevent a major disruption in food supply. This market typically receives more than 15,000 products every day from all over the country, packing the stalls with meat, fruits and vegetables – May 18, 2020

MEXICO CITY — The head of Mexico’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic has sidestepped calls to resign after Mexico posted a record case increase and the country’s death count rose to overtake the United Kingdom as the third-highest in the world.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said late Friday that “I express my respect” to the nine of Mexico’s 32 state governors who called for his resignation, adding “I hope we can continue to work together.”

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On Saturday, Mexico reported yet another new daily high for confirmed cases — 9,556, which raised Mexico’s total cases so far to almost 425,000. The country also posted 784 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, raising its accumulated total to 47,472.

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A letter calling for Lopez-Gatell’s “immediate” resignation bore the names of 10 state governors, all from opposition parties, was made public Friday, but later one of those governors said he had not approved the letter and distanced himself from it.

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Ancient Aztec ruins found in Mexico City – Jul 15, 2020

The letter blamed the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for “an erratic handling of the epidemic and a lack of efficient response” that simultaneously boosted Mexico’s death toll to the third-highest in the world while suffering an 18.9% drop in economic activity in the second quarter compared to the same period last year.

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Mexico has imposed a very lax and partial lockdown of economic activity that has not stopped high levels of contagion, but has strangled the economy. Rather than testing or contact tracing, the government has focused on expanding hospital facilities.

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The federal government has given confusing and mixed messages about whether to wear face masks. Lopez Obrador himself almost never wears one, and said Friday “I will use a face mask when there is no more corruption,” a reference to his administration’s anti-graft crusade, which he views as the country’s main priority.

Many governors have been stung by the federal government’s four-colour “stoplight” scheme indicating whether a state is allowed to reopen businesses gradually. Criteria like the rate of infection or hospital occupation levels are used to determine the colours, ranging from red for the shutdown of all but essential businesses, to green for near-normality. But many have disputed the way those criteria are determined.

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