Hugo López-Gatell, Mexico’s Covid-19 czar, criticized after seaside journey
López-Gatell was photographed at a seemingly seaside restaurant in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in the tourist-friendly beach town of Zipolite over the weekend. The images quickly went viral on social media.
A Mexican government source has confirmed the photos are authentic.
In them López-Gatell can be seen sharing a table with a woman. He does not wear a mask that is not required when sitting in restaurants that are allowed to be open. Another viral photo from a few days earlier also showed him in an airplane gangway with his cell phone, his mask pulled under his nose and chin.
Travel across Mexico is largely unrestricted at the moment, so the deputy health minister did nothing illegal by traveling despite disregarding his own leadership and that of local officials.
Many in Mexico are angry at the apparent hypocrisy of the Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist whose message of Quédate en casa or Stay at Home has become a household phrase. Since the pandemic began, López-Gatell has held nightly press conferences in Mexico urging people to wear masks properly and practice social distancing.
People online expressed their anger that López-Gatell – who last week urged Twitter followers to “… to prevent infection, please stay home” – was traveling at a time when the medical staff was under heavy strain . “When thousands of doctors haven’t seen their families in Mexico or have died, when tens of thousands of health professionals can’t dream of taking a vacation, a photo comes in,” wrote Xavier Tello, a health policy analyst in Mexico City.
When asked about the trip at a press conference on Monday, López-Gatell said, “I have nothing to hide. I just went to the Oaxaca coast … And I visited close relatives, very good friends, and we were there a very private home these days. “
Sitting in front of a sign that read “Quédate en casa”, he told journalists that the restaurant he was seen in complied with public health rules and noted that the severity of Covid-19 varied between states .
López-Gatell himself lives in the hardest-hit Mexico City, where nearly 30 public hospitals say they are 100% capacity, and many others are approaching that mark. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has asked residents to only go out when absolutely necessary.
The metropolis returned to Red Alert, the country’s highest coronavirus warning indicator, more than two weeks ago. This forced many companies to temporarily close to cease all non-essential activities until at least Sunday.
López-Gatell’s actions over the weekend could undermine the lessons he and other health officials have preached for months and come at a particularly difficult time in the country’s pandemic.
Newly confirmed deaths and cases have risen steadily across the country since early October, with the latest daily numbers among the highest in the pandemic. More than 127,000 people were killed by the virus.
When asked about Lopez Gatell’s trip, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said reporters should direct these questions to the deputy secretary, but seemed to justify the trip.
“He worked extremely hard, he fulfilled his responsibility,” said López Obrador. “It is good that there is such public control, but civil servants also have rights.”
The president, who has traveled himself and rarely wears a mask, was often criticized from the start for how he dealt with the pandemic.