Mexicans want more info while president out with COVID-19

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has shared only a rather wooden-looking photo of himself since he tested positive for the coronavirus

On Sunday, he announced via Twitter that he had tested positive, had mild symptoms and was undergoing treatment. Since then he has been out of the public eye with the exception of a photo circulated on his Twitter account Monday showing him sitting stiffly behind a desk in jacket and tie.

And it didn't go over well when Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said later Monday: “Not just now, but throughout the president’s whole recovery period, we are not going to reveal any clinical information.” The reactions ranged from critics of López Obrador who questioned if he was really sick to supporters who expressed genuine concern.

López Gatell has since said López Obrador had a low fever and a headache. On Thursday, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the president was doing well and in “full recovery.”

“President López Obrador is a president who from the first minute of his government has been in front of the cameras,” said Jesús Silva Herzog Márquez, a political consultant in Mexico, calling him one of the most exposed presidents in the world. “The fact that we’ve gone more than two days without a fresh image of president López Obrador appears unsettling.”

Around the world, governments have handled the COVID-19 illnesses of their leaders in a variety of ways.

U.S. President Donald Trump, like López Obrador, announced his infection via Twitter with few details and then was hospitalized a day later. French President Emmanuel Macron shared a video from isolation where he described his symptoms and urged his countrymen to not let their guard down. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced his infection at an in-person news conference while wearing a mask, which he had seldom donned before.

At one point in October, Trump’s government doctor provided an upbeat assessment of his condition but avoided divulging specific details of the treatment, including that the president had received supplemental oxygen before he was admitted to the hospital. The rosy assessment was soon contradicted by Trump’s chief of staff, who told reporters the president was more ill than the public had been led to believe and the 74-year-old leader faced a “critical” few days in his fight against COVID-19.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office initially downplayed the seriousness of his condition when he contracted COVID-19. But once he was hospitalized in April, officials gave regular updates with details of his symptoms and some aspects of his treatment, including that he was treated with oxygen but was not put on a ventilator.

Adriana Báez Carlos, a political science professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said Mexico hasn’t seen any comparable situation since at least the 1910 revolution.

“The president’s health is, of course, a state affair, so if it worsens we must be informed,” Báez Carlos said.

Some say the larger point is that López Obrador is again passing up an opportunity to reinforce the seriousness of the pandemic. López Obrador played down the threat early, has rarely been seen wearing a mask in public and at times contradicted his own health officials’ recommendations.

The president, a 67-year-old heart attack survivor who suffers from high blood pressure, could set a strong example even with his absence.

Walking near the National Palace where López Obrador is in isolation, merchant Mario Alberto Carmona Galvan said he felt embarrassment for Mexico that the president had contracted the illness after not wearing a mask. Sharing more information about the leader's health could go a long way in a country where many people harbor doubts about the virus, he said.

“Because if they don’t talk about it, it’s like the illness doesn’t exist or that this virus isn’t here,” Carmona Galva said. “Saying that the president is sick shows that the virus is real, that you have to protect yourself.”

Michelle Varela, an economist also walking downtown, said she hoped that after his illness López Obrador would take precautions that he previously eschewed to set an example.

“I think that (his health information) should be public for the same reason, to be an example for the people,” she said.

Britain’s Johnson was accused by critics of underplaying the seriousness of the pandemic early in 2020, but after he left the hospital he expressed no doubt that the virus could be deadly, thanking medical staff for saving his life.

López Obrador is known for his obstinacy and has taken certain pride in it at times. “It remains to be seen whether having fallen into the claws of this virus will spur a personal change or stubbornness,” Silva-Herzog said.

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Associated Press video journalist Alexis Triboulard in Mexico City and writers Jill Lawless in London, Angela Charlton in Paris and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.