"It's vital that society understands that the danger continues," he said.
But several governors defied the federal government’s orders, allowing shops and hotels in their states to open at least partially. Meanwhile, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador resumed his travel around the country with a visit to the Caribbean coast.
“We have to enter a new normality,” López Obrador told a news conference. “Our national economy, the well-being of our people need this.”
Mexico has confirmed nearly 10,000 deaths directly linked to the novel coronavirus, with an unknown number of other people perishing without a test. The Mexico City region has been hit hardest. López-Gatell says it is starting to show signs of a decline in cases, but some scientists believe deaths could continue at elevated levels for weeks.
Mexico has suffered the second-most coronavirus fatalities in Latin America, after Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been a global outlier in downplaying the threat.
Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, a political scientist at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, said López Obrador had failed to establish a coordinated national policy.
“He’s far from the terrible denialism of Bolsonaro and the brutal lack of responsibility of Donald Trump,” he said. But “he’s a politician who hasn’t managed to fit together the pieces of his strategy.”
The Mexican leader initially appeared to minimize the coronavirus threat, holding crowded rallies and saying he was protected by religious tokens. He then largely turned over management of the pandemic to López-Gatell, a respected epidemiologist and senior Health Ministry official. On March 23, Mexico ordered businesses, government offices and schools to shut down.
Several governors broke with the federal government’s strategy from the start, saying it was too lax and imposing quarantines earlier. On Monday, some went in the opposite direction.
In the northern state of Nuevo Leon, officials allowed breweries, hotels and shopping centers to resume some operations. In the western state of Nayarit, authorities permitted car dealerships, clothing stores and paint stores to operate at 30 percent capacity.
“Our state can’t survive being paralyzed any longer,” said Enrique Alfaro, the governor of the western state of Jalisco, which plans to open its businesses gradually.
Several governors cited economic concerns for reopening. In the face of the coronavirus, López Obrador has adopted one of the smallest stimulus packages of any country in Latin America, saying he wanted to avoid debt.
“López Obrador’s government is not crafting an economic strategy to protect jobs and businesses,” said José Antonio Crespo, a political scientist at the Center for Research and Economic Policy. “So many governors say, ‘I will.’ ”
Mexico’s government has come under pressure not only from businesses and the unemployed — nearly 1 million people have lost jobs amid the country’s outbreak — but from the Trump administration. Mexico was more aggressive in shutting down some industries than in the United States, leading to shortages of parts for U.S. auto and aerospace manufacturers.
By Monday, officials said, more than 5,000 manufacturers of cars or transportation equipment had applied to reopen.
Authorities announced weeks ago that the restrictions would be terminated at the end of May. They appear to have underestimated how punishing the coronavirus would be. A month ago, López-Gatell predicted Mexico would suffer 6,000 deaths nationwide.
Officials now believe the country’s outbreak will probably not be a single, cataclysmic event. Instead, they say, outbreaks are likely to surge in different parts of the country at different times, as they have in the United States.
So the federal government has switched to a traffic light system in which states are labeled red, orange, yellow, or green.
As of Monday, all but one state was red. Zacatecas was orange — some nonessential businesses and public spaces could reopen, but most restrictions remained in place.
Some jurisdictions added stricter measures. The mayor 0f Mexico City ordered residents to wear face masks in public. Men were advised to get rid of beards or mustaches, out of concern they could trap the virus.
While many Mexicans remained at home, López Obrador was on his first domestic trip in two months. He plans to spend several days in the Yucatán Peninsula, promoting construction of his Mayan train project to link popular attractions and boost tourism and jobs. He has said he’ll avoid crowds.
The president has been widely criticized for traveling amid a raging outbreak.
“It doesn’t seem to be a very coherent message,” Silva-Herzog Márquez said.