MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico City has launched a test-and-trace approach to containing the coronavirus, after a rise in hospitalizations that has raised fears of a new economic lockdown in one of the world’s largest urban centers.
Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates globally, and for months has favored building capacity at hospitals over generating detailed data about localized outbreaks.
Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has shown more willingness to invest in testing than the federal government, and with the capital city’s hospitals now at risk of saturation in the coming weeks her administration is scaling up both tests and contact tracing.
Mexico City is proposing to double the number of daily coronavirus tests to 10,000 by adding rapid testing at pop-up sites in highly populated areas, health centers and at sports stadiums including the legendary Azteca Stadium.
The local government has established a new contract tracing program using QR codes, which registers the phone numbers of customers at stores and restaurants so they can be contacted in the event that they have contact with an infected person.
“The goal…is to break the chain of contagion by identifying and isolating positive cases early,” the Mexico City Health Department said in a statement to Reuters, adding that the testing would continue until the infection curve was flattened.
Since the QR code program was launched six days ago, 11,439 people have been notified that they were in contact with a positive case, according to Mexico City government data.
Luis Alvarez, a 54-year-old Mexico City resident, said he thought the program made sense.
“It’s been shown to work in other countries,” he said.
The new measures in the capital go beyond those implemented by the federal government. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he would not restrict mobility or require the use of face masks.
“Don’t impose, convince. Nothing by force,” Lopez Obrador said during his morning news conference Tuesday.
Sheinbaum has been cautious about imposing new business restrictions that could deepen Mexico’s recession, limiting new curbs on activity in recent weeks to shortening the hours of services like bars and restaurants.
Across Mexico, the novel coronavirus has infected over a million people and killed nearly 103,000, according to health secretary data.
(Reporting by Joseu Gonzalez and Alberto Fajardo; Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)