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Infections, deaths soar in Juarez as Mexico moves toward restarting economy

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — As Mexico moves toward a gradual reactivation of its economy Monday, the number of new coronavirus infections and deaths in the city of Juarez and the state of Chihuahua grows higher every day, raising fears of a new wave of infections that other countries have seen after loosening restrictions.

Chihuahua state has reached the 1,000 mark for total confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a cumulative 189 deaths. On Friday, state health officials announced 57 new cases and 20 additional deaths related to the virus to reach that milestone.

The city of Juarez still accounted for the majority of both infections and deaths in the state. From Thursday to Friday, 19 new deaths were reported in Juarez for a total of 152.

Of the 57 state cases announced Friday, 32 are in Juarez, which according to officials now has 615 cases to date.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is straddling the reopening issue, telling the public that the fight against the virus depends on continued social distancing in many places while describing how other areas will begin to return to work Monday.

“We’re at the point where we begin to have fewer cases,” López Obrador said Friday. “But in these days we have to be more careful, not relax the discipline, don’t trust ourselves.”

The comments came on the same day the government clarified guidelines for the construction, mining and automotive industries to return to work Monday. The next two weeks will serve as a period to formalize their protocols to keep workers safe, but if they do so and get approval they can open any time before June 1.

For the first time since the pandemic started, the number of new virus test confirmations across all of Mexico had exceeded 2,000 in a day on Thursday. “We are at the moment of the fastest growth in new cases,” said Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell. “This is the most difficult moment.”

Health officials have said the real number of infections is far higher. Mexico has a lower rate of testing for the virus than any of the world’s largest economies, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The country’s lockdown — which began in March — will remain in place, but those particular industries will be allowed to resume because Mexico’s top advisory body on the pandemic, the General Health Council, said it had decided to classify them as “essential activities.”

There were signs that hospital capacity was nearing its limit in Mexico City, which has been hit even harder than Juarez. The Health Department reported that 73% percent of the capital city’s general care hospital beds were full; the percentage was lower for intensive-care beds, but that was partly because of the expansion of improvised ICU units at hospitals and other venues.

On Friday, about 2,000 ventilators purchased by private companies and donated to Mexican hospitals arrived aboard a flight from Chicago, Illinois. The machines are made by Royal Philips, a Dutch company with plants in the U.S., and were acquired by major Mexican companies.

There is concern in the medical community that talk of relaxing social distancing measures is coming too soon and could lead to a devastating second wave of infections as resources dwindle and medical personnel are running on fumes.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has announced that he was putting the country back on lockdown after a surge of new infections in the first week after he allowed shopping centers to reopen.

Guatemalans will be under a 24-hour per day stay-at-home order through the weekend. The restriction will loosen Monday to a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the week.

“Without health, life isn’t possible, nor the economy,” Giammattei said.

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