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Mexico raises health emergency level as virus cases mount

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Mexico City (AFP)

Mexico raised its health emergency level following a rapid increase in novel coronavirus cases and fears the health system could collapse, the government said on Tuesday.

Health Undersecretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said the country was moving to "phase three" of its response to the deadly pandemic after noting that "we're in a phase of rapid increase, where we're accumulating a large number of infections (and) hospital admissions."

The government has suspended all non-essential economic activity until May 30 and asked people to stay at home and observe social distancing, although it has not enforced a mandatory quarantine.

By Monday, Mexico had recorded close to 8,800 cases and 712 deaths from COVID-19. The government expects the peak of infections to hit between May 8 and 10.

Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been widely criticized for his response to the pandemic, taking much longer than other countries in the region to impose containment measures.

Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Lopez Obrador of setting a "profoundly dangerous example that threatens Mexicans' health" by flouting social distancing guidelines and continuing to hold rallies and greet supporters with handshakes and hugs.

"This epidemic is accelerating, which means there is an increasing number of cases every day and that also applies to geographical spread," said Lopez-Gatell, who accompanied Lopez Obrador at the president's daily press briefing.

Areas that keep down the spread of the coronavirus will be allowed to lift social distancing measures on May 17, the health ministry said.

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