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Mexico gears up to reopen economy despite coronavirus onslaught

Reuters | Updated: 18-05-2020 22:56 IST | Created: 18-05-2020 22:56 IST
Mexico gears up to reopen economy despite coronavirus onslaught

Mexico published guidelines for restarting operations in the automotive, mining and construction sectors on Monday, pushing ahead with reopening the economy despite a growing national toll from the COVID-19 pandemic. With Mexico's coronavirus death toll having surged past 5,000, and known cases set to surpass 50,000, officials are wrestling with how to restart key industries without triggering greater spread of the virus in the population.

The moves to loosen restrictions follow growing pressure from the United States to reopen factories that are vital to manufacturing supply chains of U.S.-based businesses, especially in the vast automotive sector. Mexico's reopening plans have drawn criticism from some politicians worried that the still-rising pandemic tide in Latin America makes it unsafe to send more people to work.

Mexico's guidelines, published in a document overnight, require companies to submit to authorities health protocols for exiting the coronavirus lockdown. Firms will then be told within 72 hours if they can resume operations. General Motors Co, which operates one of its most important plants in central Mexico, told workers at the weekend to prepare to return there to work on Wednesday. GM also told Mexican suppliers the company expected to comply quickly with the new regulations.

In the United States itself, the auto industry slowly returned to life on Monday, with some vehicle assembly plants reopening after the coronavirus lockdown while suppliers geared up to support a sector that accounts for about 6% of U.S. economic activity. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has said the reopening depends on the advice of health experts, said companies would have to answer an extensive questionnaire as part of efforts to protect workers.

"Today they can start doing the paperwork so that companies in the construction, transport, and mining industries can start their activities, beginning with their health protocols," Lopez Obrador said in his morning daily conference. The government said the guidelines will lead to a gradual reopening that follows a so-called traffic light system put in place by authorities.

Municipalities in the country with no coronavirus cases and bordering other municipalities with no cases could also presumably start lifting the lockdown on Monday. On May 12, Mexico reported a record number of deaths in a single day with 353 fatalities. That grim news was followed on Friday by a reported 2,437 new coronavirus infections, a one-day record rise in cases since the start of the pandemic.

Critics, including some within Lopez Obrador's own ruling MORENA party, worry that restarting factories too soon could exacerbate the spread the of the virus before it has been brought under control.


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