Mexicans hope President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador makes a speedy recovery from COVID-19, though many believe he could have avoided infection if he had more strictly followed the government’s own health advice – and worn a face mask.
Lopez Obrador’s diagnosis on Sunday capped the deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic in the country with the world’s fourth-highest death toll.
“He wasn’t looking after himself, always walking around without a mask, and not respecting social distancing,” said Mexico City rubbish collector Luis Enrique Flores, wheeling his cart past a wall plastered with government posters urging people to wear masks.
Lopez Obrador, who quit smoking after a heart attack in 2013, insists he is careful, and has deferred to the recommendations of his coronavirus czar, deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, when asked why he does not wear a mask.
Opinion polls show most Mexicans approve of his management of the health crisis, and his popularity has, if anything, improved in the pandemic, during which he has maintained a busy schedule and continued touring Mexico.
However, his aversion to wearing a mask is out of step with public opinion, polls suggest.
A July survey by newspaper El Financiero showed 86% of Mexicans felt masks helped prevent COVID-19 spread, while nearly nine in ten said they always wore one when leaving home, a study by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky showed on Monday.
“He should take better care of himself, he should wear a mask because he never wears one in his news conferences,” said Noe Mendez, a street vendor in Mexico City.
Only when flying is the president really ever seen in a mask. But his decision to board a plane on Sunday a few hours before he revealed he had COVID-19 prompted criticism that he was undermining the government’s own message.
Marisol Gonzalez, who runs a food stall in the capital, said many ordinary Mexicans had to go to far greater lengths to keep themselves safe and their businesses afloat.
Mexicans are fretting increasingly about access to healthcare as the pandemic stretches hospitals, but Reina Luisa Hernandez, a massage therapist whose livelihood has been shattered by the pandemic, said the president would get the sort of attention “not available to the vast majority of Mexicans.”
Others hope the president learns from his experience.
“It’s good that he knows how it feels, how people are suffering,” said Teresa Lopez, a digital magazine editor. “Now he should adopt a stricter approach.”
Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Adriana Barrera Espinosa; Editing by Marguerita Choy