MEXICO CITY - Mexico on Thursday became the world's third country to surpass 200,000 coronavirus deaths, as fears grew of another wave of infections after Easter.
The nation's COVID-19 fatality toll now stands at 200,211, the health ministry said in its daily update.
The bleak milestone comes despite a decline in new cases and deaths in recent weeks, following a surge in January that pushed many hospitals to the breaking point.
The country's coronavirus czar, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, has warned of the risk of a new wave of infections as millions of Mexicans prepare for the Easter holidays around the start of April.
That prospect also worries epidemiologist Alejandro Macias, although he thinks that it is possible that Mexico has now gained some degree of immunity.
"The world is in a third wave. Perhaps few countries had it as intensely as Mexico in the second, so the virus would have fewer people to infect," he told AFP.
Mexico's death toll is far worse than the government's "catastrophic" scenario of 60,000 deaths.
"I imagined it was going to be worse than they were assuming," said Macias, who led the country's fight against the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
"But it was much more lethal," he said.
Excess mortality data suggests the real COVID-19 death toll is much higher than the official figure, due to limited testing.
'PART OF THE STATISTICS'
It was on March 18, 2020 that a man named Carlos Hernandez became Mexico's first known COVID-19 victim, at a time when doctors were facing an adversary they knew little about.
When Hernandez complained of joint pain, his wife Adriana Meneses assumed it was because they had spent hours on their feet during a heavy metal concert.
A private doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia, but the symptoms worsened.
"We never thought what happened would happen," said Hernandez's sister Ana, who begged him not to agree to be intubated in a public hospital.
Three days later, due to what the family calls "negligence" and a lack of medical supplies, the news came that they had feared the most.
Hernandez, who suffered from diabetes and was overweight, died a week before his 42nd birthday.
His doctor told the family that it was a new virus and they did not know how to treat it.
"We were harassed by the neighbors and on social networks. They threatened to burn down our house," said his widow. "Today, unfortunately, we are part of the statistics."
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has himself recovered from the virus, was accused of being slow to impose a lockdown and has worn a mask only on rare occasions.
The left-wing populist, who continues to enjoy high public approval ratings, points out that the Mexican government was 1 of the first in Latin America to start vaccinations, on Dec. 24.
But Mexico desperately needs more vaccines.
So far roughly 6.1 million doses have been applied in the country of 126 million people.
"For there to be a true mass vaccination, we need to have 10 million vaccinations a month," Macias said.