For political junkies in Mexico used to a president hogging the spotlight, the rise to household-name status of Hugo López-Gatell, a once-obscure health undersecretary, has been breathtaking.
Each evening Mr López-Gatell holds a press conference in which he reveals Mexico’s daily covid-19 figures and exhorts Mexicans to stay in their homes. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist president, has at times resembled Donald Trump in playing down the pandemic. So Mr López-Gatell has earned a reputation similar to that of Anthony Fauci in America: a by-the-book health bureaucrat who must contend with an unhelpful boss.
Yet Mr López-Gatell himself is controversial. His critics fret that too little is being done. The total number of coronavirus test results that Mexico has processed until now, 11,357 as of April 4th, is roughly what the United States goes through every two hours. Like many countries, Mexico uses a sentinel model for tracking the disease, using only a few high-quality testing centres, with narrow criteria for testing eligibility. This is a reliable way to track overall trends, but it almost certainly leads to a drastic undercount of the pandemic’s true spread. Unlike in most countries, Mexico’s quarantine measures have been lax and unenforced. I interviewed Mr López-Gatell on April 3rd. Below is the transcript, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.