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Juarez approaches 4,300 virus cases, 650 deaths as Mexican businesses struggle in pandemic

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A seller waits for customers behind a protective nylon shield placed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Iztapalapa market, in Mexico City.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — As of Tuesday, Ciudad Juarez accounts for 4,288 of Chihuahua state's 7,707 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 648 of its 885 deaths.

"We insist that the measures must be redoubled, because we are in a new reality that will not end soon," proclaimed Leticia Ruiz, the deputy director of Chihuahua's Ministry of Health.

He said both case and death figures have increased significantly over the past week.

Across all of Mexico, the government has reported nearly 400,000 infections and more than 44,000 fatalities, both considered significant under-counts due to a lack of widespread testing.

The rising virus casualties come as Mexican business owners are also trying to cling to life.

Their survival attempts are often unsuccessful in an economic recession profoundly deepened by the pandemic and with almost no assistance from the government.

Business owners report extending credit to clients while laying off workers, cutting their hours or reducing their salaries.

The National Small Business Alliance said Tuesday that more than 150,000 mostly small businesses have been forced to close amid the pandemic. Last week, the government’s statistical agency said that 92% of businesses of all sizes reported they hadn’t received any government support in April and May due to the pandemic, according to its most recent survey.

According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Mexican government increased spending to confront the pandemic’s economic effects by just 1.1% of its gross domestic product, among the lowest in the entire region. Meanwhile, the administration has stuck to its austerity goals, which have included lowering the salaries of many government workers.

“The economic recession through which the country is passing is of a greater dimension than what the government is doing now,” said Cuauhtémoc Rivera, president of the small business alliance, which counts some 95,000 members.

Rivera’s alliance represents the neighborhood shops — corner stores, tortilla makers, butchers — who are closest to the consumers, many running family businesses out of their own homes. They’re seeing their clients struggle, increasingly buying essentials on credit and appearing emotionally exhausted, he said.

Their most recent survey, presented Tuesday, showed that 79% of business owners said their clients didn’t have enough money to cover the basic food basket, he said.

“The recession means unemployment, means desperation,” Rivera said. “The people don’t have the energy to restart the engine.”

But Mexico’s cheerleader-in-chief, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, assures that the worst is over.

“I believe we’ve already hit bottom,” López Obrador said. “I would tell you that the worst was at the end of April.” In April, Mexico lost 555,000 jobs in the formal economy, about half of the formal jobs lost so far.

However, López Obrador notes often that more than half of workers toil in the informal economy, where estimates are that many times that number have lost their employment.

The president has maintained throughout that significant financial support to businesses would only result in corruption. Instead, he has offered $1,000 in low-interest credits to small businesses, as well as credits to some workers in the informal sector.

The government response has been panned by businesses big and small as insufficient.

López Obrador instead has pushed to reopen the economy quickly even as Covid-19 infections and deaths continue to rise.

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Associated Press


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