Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested Wednesday that politicians who impose lockdowns or curfews to limit COVID-19 are acting like dictators.
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The comments came as López Obrador once again fended off questions about why he almost never wears a face mask, saying it was a question of liberty.
The Mexican leader said pandemic measures that limit people’s movements are “fashionable among authorities … who want to show they are heavy handed, dictatorship.”
“A lot of them are letting their authoritarian instincts show,” he said, adding “the fundamental thing is to guarantee liberty.”
It was unclear if the Mexican leader was referring to authorities in other countries, or the mainly opposition-party local leaders who have tried to impose limits in Mexico.
Many governments across the world have effectively implemented lockdowns or limits on when people can leave their homes, something López Obrador has fiercely resisted doing, arguing some people live day-to-day on what they earn on the streets.
Some local governments in Mexico have tried to use police to enforce limits on masks or movement, which resulted in scandals of abusive behavior by police. López Obrador argues such measures should be voluntary.
“Everyone is free. Whoever wants to wear a face mask and feel safer is welcome to do so,” López Obrador said.
The Mexican government has gone against the grain of international anti-virus practices in two ways. It has offered changing and contradictory advice on the utility of wearing face masks, and has described mass testing as wasteful and pointless.
But one area in which Mexico has joined with the rest of the world is in the rush to acquire vaccines. López Obrador urged the country’s medical safety commission, known as Cofepris, to hurry up and approve the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which has already been given the go-ahead by regulators in the U.K.
“The whole process of authorization in Cofepris is being simplified, we don’t want that to get held up in bureaucracy there,” López Obrador said. “This is an urgent issue, the final paperwork is being started and Cofepris is going to be working day and night to approve it as soon as possible.”
And on Wednesday, Mexico’s Health Department signed a contract for 34.4 million doses of that vaccine, and said it hoped to receive 250,000 doses in December. Each person requires two doses.
Mexico has seen almost 107,000 test-confirmed deaths so far, the fourth-highest toll in the world, but Mexico does relatively little testing and officials estimate the real death toll is closer to 150,000.