As in other countries, in the Riviera Maya, the business of false evidence has been started by a tourist in distress. The client goes to social media groups because he has a problem: after spending several days on the beaches of the Riviera Maya, he has to return to his country of origin, but he did not take the coronavirus detection tests that his government requests to return.
In less than an hour, you will have been contacted by an intermediary, who will give you a contact, and a laboratory will issue you a personalized document to travel from Mexico to any country. It is the new business that has grown in the shadow of travel restrictions for international tourists: with apocryphal tests made to measure and sold for 800 Mexican pesos, just under 40 dollars, as El País was able to verify.
El Cordobés, who is a member of a group of expats and foreign tourists on Facebook, promises that everything will be fast and cheap. A user writes him by private message that his flight to Madrid with a stopover in the United States leaves tomorrow and that paying almost 250 dollars for an urgent test is completely out of his budget. “I’ll tell you about my experience to see if you are interested in being contacted by a laboratory in Cancun,” replies the intermediary, who has just gone on vacation to Argentina, “a group of 15 people traveled and everything went perfectly.” The fact of paying less than a fifth of what a test cost is because “you don’t do the swab or anything” and it is also a convenient option “to save you the bullshit of waiting so many hours”, he explains before giving one last advice: “Tell him it’s from me because if not,
The Secretary, the contact in the laboratory, says on WhatsApp that he only needs three pieces of information: full name, date of birth, and the flight departure time. “Since the flight is tomorrow, I don’t even offer you the option of swabbing because you won’t get there if you don’t,” he says. It is Tuesday at noon, but the Secretary suggests that the certificate say that the sample was taken at seven in the morning to avoid problems and have a greater margin with the scales. Shortly after, he sends his card number and asks for a deposit of 800 pesos. “I send the data to the laboratory and I ask them for priority”, he writes, “In ten minutes they will send me your PCR”.
The document has a folio, customer number, barcode and is endorsed by a chemist from a private hospital 15 minutes from the Cancun hotel zone. “Negative” is read in bold in the center of the paper, where the results appear as if they had been validated the next morning. “There will be no problem when you arrive at the airport and check-in, they will ask you if you have the PCR, show it to them and that’s it,” says the Secretary, who is actually a woman, in a voice note. . “I already have passengers who flew to Madrid and France without problems,” he adds before wishing for a good trip.
When asking for reports like a normal client in the hospital, the lab staff say there is no way to cheat on the procedure. The results take at least twelve hours to deliver, but the certificate costs more than 4,000 pesos.
The scheme has been offered to travelers of other nationalities. The Journal da Band newscast did a report at the beginning of the month, a few days after Brazil established the requirement of negative tests, in which it said that false exams could be obtained in 200 dollars. They were issued to Canadian tourists for $ 100 and in less than an hour, according to the Quebec daily Le Devoir. The United States on Tuesday joined nearly twenty countries that require a negative diagnosis to fly into the country from abroad, expanding the potential customers of these scams. Spain will also ask for a test before traveling from Mexico from February 1.
A spokesman for the Secretary of Health of the State of Quintana Roo – where Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Tulum are located – assures that there is no record of any complaint about this type of fraud. The State Secretary of Tourism has not detected any case either but ensures that a deployment has been made to apply up to 16,000 tests and that on average 13,500 are done every day.
The vast majority of hoteliers offer tests against the virus, some already included in the room rates and at no additional cost to tourists, with the possibility of giving free accommodation for up to 14 days to those who test positive. There are also test modules at the airport and more and more laboratories that go directly to the accommodation so that tourists do not have to travel. “Everything has been done so that those who visit us are safer,” says Marisol Vanegas, the head of Tourism.
“To avoid false evidence, the IATA [International Air Transport Association] has stipulated a special and mandatory format that tourists sign to be responsible that the evidence they are delivering is absolutely authentic,” adds Vanegas and says that whoever lies is subject to a formal complaint. “Having this, no tourist will risk it.” The state government has a coordinated operation with the 44 consulates in Cancun and the airport authorities, with the hope of providing certainty and reversing a drop of almost 13 million visitors in the last year compared to 2019, according to preliminary data.
Despite the bump, Mexico was the third most visited destination in 2020, according to the World Tourism Organization. Due to ignorance, opportunism, or laziness, the new fraud is replicated little by little at the expense of the receiving countries and their communities of origin, and at the worst moment of the pandemic, with more than 150,000 confirmed deaths in the country.