(Bloomberg) -- A third coronavirus wave fueled by the highly contagious delta variant is battering two of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations on opposite coasts, Los Cabos in the Pacific and Cancun on the Caribbean.
In Cancun, cases have soared to a point where the Hard Rock hotel has set aside two floors for guests with symptoms. Some hotels say they offer discounts for those in quarantine until they’re no longer contagious.
In Baja California Sur, where Los Cabos is located, authorities are again rushing to add beds to strained hospitals, which reached 75% capacity last week before improving to 62% on Thursday. Beaches in the town of La Paz were ordered closed, though local media show many ignoring the order.
Since Mexico hasn’t limited who can fly during the pandemic, both domestic and international tourists have flocked to the resort areas. In June, 557,400 passengers landed in Los Cabos, a 15% jump from June 2019. Cancun received just over 2 million, slightly below pre-pandemic levels but far more than the 175,000 visitors last year.
“The delta variant has a strong presence in the Yucatan peninsula, particularly Quintana Roo and in Baja California Sur, where around 80% of new tests are now delta,” said Alejandro Macias, who oversaw Mexico’s H1N1 epidemic in 2009.
Like much of Latin America, Mexico has been slammed by Covid, among the worst hit in the world. A devastating second wave in January saw paramedics driving for hours in search of hospital beds and oxygen tanks. The country’s poor testing means that even the government admits deaths are much higher than the official number, with one estimate placing them at 540,000.
Despite promises of special care for those who contract the virus on vacation, some tell a different story. Lindy Ray from Durant, Oklahoma, traveled to Cancun in early June to celebrate her honeymoon with husband Trey. “We were so excited to get to spend some time alone at the beach,” she said in a message.
Everything was as promised and they had a fine time. But they’d started to feel ill when time came to take the mandatory Covid test to go back to the U.S. It came back positive.
They were escorted back to their room where they had to stay an extra week and agree not to leave. The hotel said it would discount their rate but charged them close to full fare.
“We could only order room service, there were only 5-6 items we could choose from,” Ray said. “We asked for medication several times and were brought three out of the six things we asked for. They didn’t clean the room after we tested positive. We ran out of toilet paper for a few days.”
What’s happening on the coasts is reflected in Mexico City, where Health Minister Oliva Lopez said the delta variant is now predominant. Deaths are still relatively low since about 69% of the city’s adult population have received at least one vaccine shot, she said on television. Hospitals are filling up -- occupancy rose to 28% from 7% in just a month, with Covid-specific occupancy now at 63%.
On Friday, the city announced that, due to the increase, next week it will drop back down to orange status in its Covid color code, reducing permitted activities.
The capital has administered more vaccines as a percentage of population than any other area except the border states of Baja California and Chihuahua, where a campaign to reopen the frontier with the U.S. led to a big vaccine push.
Across Mexico, only about 31% have received at least one dose, according to Bloomberg’s tracker. In June, as a spike was detected, Mexico’s Covid czar Hugo Lopez Gatell said the federal government would ship more vaccines to both Baja Sur and Quintana Roo. So far, about 65% of adults in Quintana Roo and 50% in Cancun have received at least one dose, according to government data.
On Thursday, Mexico added 16,244 new Covid cases, marking the third day in a row cases have seen the biggest daily rise since January. Deaths rose by 419, also the steepest in nearly two months.
There are no plans for new lockdowns, Covid czar Lopez Gatell said during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily press conference Tuesday. “People are tired after so many months of the pandemic,” he said, adding the government is prepared to add beds where needed. “We can’t ask people to reduce their mobility like we did at the start.”
Despite the rise in Cancun infections, 270 hotels there were granted an exemption from a 50% occupancy limit, allowing them to operate at 70% capacity, according to Roberto Cintron, head of the region’s hotel association.
Quintana Roo’s economy depends almost entirely on tourism, Cintron said, so hotels have implemented strict sanitary protocols. “Tourists have a very different experience,” he said in an interview, coolly dismissing concern over the rise in cases.
“It’s important to highlight that infections are occurring among the young locals,” he said. “We have enough hospital beds for them, if they’re needed. But it’s not happening among tourists.”
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