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Every morning, Rosa Gallegos has to decide: to stay home with her family to be safe from coronaviruses, or to hit the streets of Mexico City to earn money to eat.
The 61-year-old grandmother always comes to the same conclusion: “If the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, she will be hungry.”
Last Thursday, he stands on a street corner near the public hospital complex and releases small bags of nuts. “Nuts, 10 pesos. Get your nuts, 10 pesos, “he tells passersby.
Before the pandemic, she worked several days a week and earned about 500 pesos ($ 25) each day. Combined with her daughter’s salary, the family met with ends. But today, Gallegos is trying to survive for as little as $ 3 to $ 5 a day.
“I have one daughter who still depends on me,” Gallegos tells NPR. “She has two young sons and was recently fired.” Mexico does not have federal unemployment insurance, and her daughter did not qualify for unemployment in Mexico City because she did not have a clothing store contract in which she worked. “That’s why I have to go and work, help her, support her,” says Gallegos.
As the coronavirus continues to rise in Mexico – where the government registers more than 400,000 confirmed cases and more than 45,000 fatalities, the fourth highest number of victims in the world – the family is hurting across the country. However, low-wage earners have doubled: they account for the highest proportion of virus-related deaths and do not have the resources to stay afloat as the pandemic plunges Mexico deeper into recession. There is currently growing pressure on the government to improve its health response and provide financial assistance to those in need.
The Mexican capital is taking the toll of rising crises. Long lines are created in the kitchens of the city government for soups.
James Fredrick for NPR
“We serve 20% more meals every day,” says NPR Almudena Ocejo Rojo, head of the social inclusion and social care agency in Mexico City, which operates these soup kitchens. “Food aid is something we see as demand for it grow, and we will try to meet that need.”
The agency, whose task is to provide assistance mainly to urban homeless people, people with disabilities and the elderly, is trying to overcome the growing demand, as the heavily populated large capacity remains at the epicenter of the contagion in Mexico. The agency moved kitchens to soups in hospitals to feed hungry relatives of COVID-19 patients and expanded capacity in homeless shelters.
Not so long ago, the poor and vulnerable in Mexico were told they didn’t have to worry about the coronavirus. In early March, the country’s first coronavirus cases were wealthy Mexicans returning from a ski trip to Vail, Colorado. The coronavirus, politicians and media commentators said it was a disease of the rich.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected in 2018 with broad support from workers, has repeatedly reduced the risk of disease outbreaks. “Pandemics will do nothing for us,” he said on March 15 – when Mexico reported more than 40 cases. He praised the spells of happiness as his defense against the virus.
That month, one of the president’s best-known supporters, a lawyer, scientist John Ackerman, followed up on the hashtag # VailNoEsMexico, “Vail is not Mexico,” suggesting that the country may not enforce anti-coronary measures.
On March 26, the governor of Puebla, an ally of President Luis Miguel Barbosos, said: “The majority [of coronavirus cases] are people with money. If you are rich, you are at risk, but not if you are poor. We poor people are immune. “Until then, the virus has ravaged people of all backgrounds in many countries.
According to a study by Héctor Hernández Bringas, a demographer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, known by the Spanish initials UNAM, the opposite is true of more than 40,000 COVID-19 deaths.
“As in any crisis, in any disaster in a country like Mexico, the most affected are vulnerable,” he says.
Hernandez is tracking demographic data on the death certificates of COVID-19 victims and has made some amazing discoveries.
Claudio Cruz / AFP via Getty Images
“More than 70% of people who died of COVID had a basic or lower education,” he says. It is a significant proportion of the country in which more than half of the population completes secondary school. Low education also means higher poverty and social inequalities among people with disabilities.
“More than half of the people who died at COVID died in the hospitals of the Ministry of Health,” says Hernández. He explains that these are public hospitals that take care of all Mexicans, especially the poor and health insurance.
He added that 9% of deaths occurred outside the medical facility, which means that thousands of Mexicans fell ill without medical care.
Rosa’s family Gallegos, a street vendor, experienced this first hand.
“I know how awful it is because I saw it with my nephew. He didn’t last the last eight days, “he says.
Gallegos’ nephew was healthy for 29 years. When he developed flu-like symptoms, the family did not know what to do – there was conflicting information about the coronavirus and rumors were rumored that it was a scam. At the time he was in critical condition, he could not be brought to the hospital. He died in bed. The coroner’s report confirmed that he had COVID-19.
The coronavirus has affected severely poor Mexico, in urban centers such as Mexico City, as well as in small rural communities in countries such as Guerrero and Oaxaca. And the disease is only part of the pain.
“Many millions of people have lost their jobs … and the government has given no support to companies or workers at all,” said Valeria Moy, director of the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a business think tank. Mexico City.
It is estimated that 12.5 million Mexicans lost their jobs and left the labor market altogether in April when coronavirus restrictions came into force, according to an analysis of official data.
Bancomer Bank BBVA estimates that it will take a decade for Mexico to recover from the ongoing economic losses without significant fiscal stimulus.
The López Obrador administration offers business loans of 25,000 pesos ($ 1,250), but Moy says they will not disappear in the event of a slump. The government has also paid pensions to the elderly, but has so far rejected any new cash transfers in support of the fighting Mexicans.
“[López Obrador] he has a very deep aversion to debt. He hates debt. One of his main promises was debt reduction. He is very stubborn that we will not have more debts, “says Moy.
For a president who often uses the phrase “it’s hard to balance second power”poor first, “Which means giving the poor first.”
“What worries me most is that the government does not seem willing to respond to the gravity of the crisis,” said Rolando Cordera Campos, an economist at UNAM. “Those who earn little and live every day, which is a lot of people in Mexico, are immediately and directly affected by the blockades.”
The government agency, which monitors poverty and social programs, estimates that more than 10 million Mexicans could fall into extreme poverty due to the economic effects of the coronavirus. That would erase more than a decade of poverty reduction.
“There’s no reason for people to be hungry in Mexico,” says Cordera. “We can afford to spend this money.”
Claudio Cruz / AFP via Getty Images
Cordera and his college colleagues say the president must immediately send 75 billion pesos ($ 3.3 billion) in cash transfers to Mexicans struggling with food insecurity.
“Millions of people have spent the economic cost of staying at home for the public good of stopping the spread of the virus,” says Cordera. “The government has not taken the right steps to make sure they do not suffer.”
At least in Mexico City, it is too early to predict the long-term social impact of a pandemic, says Ocejo Rojo of the local government. Over the next few months, the social agency will collect data and have a clearer picture. But fear is tangible.
“I am afraid of this inequality is reinforced by the pandemic that people who are already vulnerable are suffering from greater difficulties and are therefore even more vulnerable, ”says Ocejo Rojo.
Gallegos says he has no choice but to continue to work every day.
“I won’t get support from anyone,” he says. He overwhelms the lack of state aid, arguing that politicians “are all the same: they say they will help and never will.”
It does what it can to avoid the virus. He says he wears a mask, keeps his distance from others and regularly disinfects or washes his hands.
“I hope the virus didn’t find me, I won’t catch it,” he says.
“But if so, fine. If it can’t be cured, I think I’ll go to another place. “