Protesters in Mexico block lanes at Arizona border crossing to demand stricter coronavirus screenings




  • In Business
  • 2020-03-26 03:29:32Z
  • By USA TODAY
 

TUCSON, Ariz. - Protesters on the Mexican side of the border blocked the Mexico-bound lanes in the twin border cities of Ambos Nogales for several hours Wednesday to express their displeasure with the Mexican government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The protesters demanded greater controls and screenings on southbound traffic at the U.S.-Mexico border out of concern that travelers from the U.S. could import new cases of the coronavirus into Mexico.

Less than a dozen people wearing face masks and carrying signs used two of their vehicles for a blockade of the two southbound lanes at the DeConcini crossing, several hundred feet into the Mexican side of the border, video taken by Mexican media showed.

Some of the signs asked U.S. residents to "stay at home." Others called on Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to step up controls and restrictions along the U.S.-Mexico border to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S., the third highest in the world, is significantly higher than Mexico, a situation that is also true along the states on both sides of the border.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Arizona's Department of Health Services has confirmed more than 400 cases, including at least six deaths resulting from the coronavirus. All four Arizona border counties confirmed additional cases Wednesday, including Santa Cruz County, which includes Nogales.

Sonora, Arizona's neighbor to the south, has confirmed a total of four cases of COVID-19 statewide, according to state health officials. None of those cases are from Sonora's border communities.

Blockade is 'first warning' for Mexico president

Jose Luis Hernandez, with the group called Sonorenses por la Salud y la Vida (Sonorans for Health and Life), explained the reason for Wednesday's blockade. He called it the "first warning" for López Obrador.

"There are no health screenings by the federal government to deal with this pandemic," he said. "That's why we're here in Nogales. We've taken this action to call on the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to act now."

The group presented a set of demands, warning that they would take similar action again if the Mexican government fails to act. Their demands mirror a set of restrictions that the U.S. government began enforcing at the border over the weekend.

The demands call for a temporary ban on visits for tourism and minor medical procedures in Mexico for both U.S. citizens as well as Mexicans living in the U.S. The group is asking for Mexican health officials to step up screenings of everybody crossing the border for symptoms of COVID-19.

The protesters emphasized the risk to border communities if health officials don't properly screen all migrants that U.S. border officials are deporting or sending back into Mexico.

Hernandez said the restrictions shouldn't impact trade and commerce, including the region's profitable winter produce industry and the manufacturing plants that employ thousands in Mexico.

"This is for your health. This is for your family," Hernandez said. "Or what do you want to happen? That this becomes worse given the irresponsibility of the Mexican government? Of course not. That's why were here."

Last week, the U.S. and Mexico governments agreed to restrict travel along the border, limiting it to "essential" reasons, such as medical emergencies, school or work.

However, few controls are in place at the border crossings on the Mexican side of the border to enforce those restrictions.

State health officials in Sonora separately deployed its staff to border crossings last week, including at the DeConcini crossing. But they were mostly stationed at the pedestrian crossings.

Few cars were able to maneuver around the blockade, forcing a bottleneck in southbound traffic in downtown Nogales, Arizona.

Officers with the Nogales Police Department in Arizona began redirecting Mexico-bound traffic at Crawford Street, several hundred yards north of the entrance to the DeConcini port of entry.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Nogales said the traffic at the DeConcini crossing had reopened at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Nogales, Arizona, issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the blockade on the Mexican side of the border and warning of potentially negative impacts on the city if it continued.

"Nogales Police anticipates demonstrations may continue tomorrow. The closure of any Port of Entry will negatively impact commerce and the way of life in Nogales," the city's statement said.

López Obrador widely criticized

López Obrador has been widely criticized in Mexico for his tepid response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has continued to hold mass rallies around the country, where he shakes hands with supporters and kisses babies.

Last week, during one of his morning news conferences, he said that "honesty" was the best protection against the virus, and then proceeded to pull out two religious icons from his wallet.

"These are my bodyguards," López Obrador told reporters.

On Sunday, he once again drew widespread condemnation throughout the country when he said that Mexican culture made them "very resistant to all calamities."

López Obrador also urged Mexicans to continue going out for dinner with their families to support the economy, defying the advice from medical professionals in Mexico and around the globe who have instead called on people to stay home as a best practice to avoid the spread of the COVID-19.

"We are still in the first phase," López Obrador said. "I will tell you when not to go out anymore.

This week, as Mexico entered the second phase of community transmission, federal health officials in Mexico City finally called for stricter measures in Mexico, such as limiting large gatherings.

Several Mexican states, including Sonora, introduced these types measures days or weeks ago.

On March 16, Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich implemented a series of restrictions after the state confirmed its first case, an elderly man who had traveled in the days prior to the United States.

Sonora banned gatherings larger than 10 people, and called for the closures of all schools and non-essential businesses such as gyms, bars and movie theaters.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Coronavirus fears lead protesters to block US-Mexico border crossing

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