MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday downplayed the importance of wearing face masks during the pandemic, calling his treasury secretary’s assertion that using them would be a factor in reactivating the economy “disproportionate.”
López Obrador had never been seen publicly wearing a mask until he flew to Washington earlier this month to meet with President Donald Trump.
“If a mask was an option for the economy’s reactivation, I’d put one on immediately,” López Obrador said Wednesday. “But it’s not like that. I follow the recommendations of the doctors, of the scientists.”
The World Health Organization recommends the wearing of masks among other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. At age 66, López Obrador also falls into an at-risk group of people who should wear masks.
Mexico reported Tuesday more than 350,000 confirmed infections and deaths surpassed 40,000, the fourth highest total behind the United Kingdom at 45,507.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera said in a virtual meeting with a national business council that countries that have taken a more ordered approach and precautions in reactivating their economies had been more successful than others that suffered new outbreaks and had to lock down again.
Herrera himself had been earlier infected with COVID-19 and recovered.
On Wednesday, Herrera was sitting behind López Obrador when he spoke and he asked the president to let him clarify his comments from the day before. He said he was using the mask as an “analogy” to explain to business owners that measures have to be taken to safely operate now. Among such measures are masks and he pulled out his own.
López Obrador returned to the podium and pronounced: “It’s safe distance and freedom.” He then proceeded to commend Mexicans for being careful and to criticize recent stories in the press that highlight the number dead in countries with presidents who don’t wear masks, including Mexico, the United States and Brazil.
Trump tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask Monday and yesterday conceded that they had an impact.
López Obrador continued traveling around Mexico for weeks, wading into crowds like usual, after Mexico confirmed its first COVID-19 infection February 28. He has generally downplayed the pandemic’s threat and pushed to reopen Mexico’s economy.
“It’s not just the mask,” he said. “It has to do with a number of factors of all kinds.”