Mexico's busy streetscape slows, but doesn't stop for virus

Full Screen
1 / 7

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Customers pick out homemade fabric face masks being sold for 20 pesos (around 85 cents) from Jorge Rodriquez, 48, on the street in central Mexico City, Monday, March 23, 2020. Rodriguez was recently laid off from his construction job until further notice, and so he and his wife began making and selling the masks. "You have a family. You have to bring home money," said Rodriguez. "I'm a little afraid, but you have to find a solution for the household costs." Beginning Monday, Mexico's capital shut down museums, bars, gyms, churches, and other non-essential businesses that gather large numbers of people, in an attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY – Increasingly empty beaches and quieter streets in Mexico contrast with a still-crowded subway system and active street vendors, as shut-downs and social distancing measures have begun but remain very uneven.

Shutting down Mexico, where many people live day-to-day off what they earn in the streets, is going to be harder than in Europe or the United States, and its government is reluctant to implement some of the extreme measures and lockdowns seen in those countries.

“We are going to continue living life as normal, and at some point the president is going to tell you when to stay at home,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told a crowd in Oaxaca over the weekend. “But right now, we can still get together, keeping a healthy distance.”

“Don't stop going out, I will tell you when you have to stay home," López Obrador told Mexicans, urging them to continue frequenting restaurants, citing fears of the economic impact of restrictive measures in a country where a day without work means a day without food for many. “Millions of Mexicans live day to day."

On Monday, the notoriously bad traffic in Mexico City — where 21 million live in the greater metropolitan area — was unusually light. Banks, restaurants and stores were nearly empty, and employees seemed to spend as much time cleaning windows and tables as waiting on customers.

But public markets, street vendors and food stands continued to bustle, and in the capital's subway system — which transports about 5.5 million riders per day — passengers were packed like sardines at some stations. Some countries south of Mexico have already cut off transportation or declared curfews or lockdowns.

Mexico has 316 confirmed cases of Coronavrius and two deaths, and despite the reluctance of the federal government to limit activities, officials in some cities and states are taking measures to thin out crowds.

For example, Mexico City — which is governed by López Obrador's Morena party — has ordered the closure of gyms, bars, theaters, movie houses, zoos and sports stadiums, and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people.