President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is planning a tour of southeast Mexico next week despite the continuing coronavirus spread.
Flying commercially, AMLO will visit Cancun and Playa del Carmen on Tuesday, then drive to Merida, as part of a tour of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayan Train rail line he promised is being built.
López Obrador has not been on tour since March 29, when he supervised the construction of a highway in Badiraguato, Sinaloa.
He will also visit Playa del Carmen and Escárcega and then review the Dos Bocas refinery in Tabasco, another major infrastructure project.
The announcement Wednesday came just hours after federal health officials reported record numbers of deaths and new coronavirus infections.
Prior to the pandemic, the president, who has yet to leave Mexico on an international trip, effectively operated like he was still on the campaign trail, crisscrossing the country each week to hug and shake hands with his admirers.
Throughout two months of social distancing measures, López Obrador has fretted about the impact on the economy and stubbornly refused to halt his key infrastructure projects.
“I’m going to be careful,” López Obrador said. “If the airline requires you to use a mask, I’m going to use it.” He said doctors are recommending that he limit his flying and travel more by car, so he planned to drive back to the capital from the Caribbean coast with stops in epidemic hotspots, including Veracruz and his home state of Tabasco.
He said he would restrict his events to no more than 50 people and maintain a healthy distance. It will be a dramatic change from his usual events, where crowds press close to him to pass letters or shout requests.
“I hope that our adversaries are not going to provoke, saying that we are not respecting health measures,” López Obrador said.
López Obrador will be present for the kickoff of the train’s first segment. He said it will generate 80,000 jobs, though critics complain it threatens the region’s water supplies and wildlife.
The tour follows some bad news for the president to address. Mexico’s central bank governor, Alejandro Díaz de León, said the economy will further shrink through 2021.
For the first time, officials reported more than 500 new confirmed COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours.
Mexico has reported more than 74,500 infections and more than 8,100 deaths, both considered to be substantial undercounts because of the country’s extremely low testing rate.
On Tuesday night, Health Undersecretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Mexico was reaching the crest of the epidemic but said in parts of the country it could drag on into October.
López Obrador said in the “new normal” he plans to spend one week on the road and one in the capital.
AMLO’s early response to the pandemic has been criticized. In late March, almost a month after Mexico’s first confirmed case, López Obrador was still traveling and holding mass events. He downplayed the severity of the virus and pulled religious amulets out of his wallet to show how he was protecting himself then. Throughout the two months of social distancing restrictions, López Obrador mixed messages of the need to quarantine and the urgency of getting back to work.
The reopening of the economy has come slowly. On May 18, the federal government allowed some mining, construction and auto manufacturing companies to resume operations. More than 300 “towns of hope,” places without active infections, were told they could resume normal life. Most declined.
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