Post-Holiday Increase Could Impact Traffic Light Designation
Cancun and the Quintana Roo region as a whole are seeing a large increase in COVID-19 infections. The spike is being attributed to the Omicron variant and the holiday season.
The holiday period was always going to be a tense time for those in Cancun and other major tourist spots in Mexico. Mexico has some of the laxest entry requirements in the world and has reaped the economic benefits in the form of tourism.
Tourists have enjoyed the relative freedom of the Mexican Caribbean, and millions have flocked from the US and as far as Europe. But relatively low rates have skyrocketed in the past week, worrying potential tourists that the region’s current green light designation will be lowered to a yellow or worse.
Mexico functions its COVID response around a traffic light system, where each state has been designated a color ranging from red to green. Those in red are under the strictest restrictions, while green regions can enjoy almost normal operations at full capacity.
Quintana Roo and one of Mexico’s other most popular destinations, Baja California Sur, have had the largest increase in positive cases since the New Year. Both are experiencing some of their highest infection rates since the pandemic began two years ago.
Quintana Roo recorded only 28 cases on the 20th of December, but eight days later 484 cases were recorded. Although not as high as their record of 574, the numbers have been consistently high since then. Baja California Sur, on the opposite coast, recorded a daily record of 700 new cases.
Cancun and the greater region of Quintana Roo are faced with a tight rope walk going forward. Millions of tourists are expected in the first few months of 2022, but with Omicron proving to be alarmingly transmittable, many are questioning at which point it makes sense to take a smaller loss to protect the greater gains.
Although some experts are saying the Omicron variant is proving to be less aggressive in terms of symptoms and requires fewer hospitalizations, the sheer volume of infections means medical centers are still facing overcrowding issues.
According to some sources, the principal hospital in the tourist region of Cancun, IMSS 03, has been at 100% capacity for ten days. The general hospital has also ceased external consultations, citing the need to avoid any unnecessary contact with the infected and to devote all staff to dealing with in hospital crowding.
Similarly, in Playa del Carmen, a hospital faced crowds filled mainly with workers from the tourist industry that had come in contact with tourists who had tested positive. Those waiting in line took up important space in the emergency room and were waiting for as long as four hours in some cases.
Quintana Roo also delayed the return of children to school this week for similar reasons. The government at both the national and regional level is blatantly aware of the rising cases, but as of today, there is no change to the light designation and no word of any imminent change.
Mexico as a whole has recorded around 4 million cases since the pandemic began, with almost 400 thousand deaths attributed to the virus. Exact numbers are anticipated to be much higher.
The US, which is the main source of tourism for Cancun, recorded more than 1 million new COVID cases on Monday this week and an average of half a million new cases a day for the week. With cases that high and no suggestion that flights to Cancun are likely to slow, it’s inevitable that more exposure is likely to happen over the coming weeks.
Whether the Mexican government will hold strong in their color designation remains to be seen, but the risk is high and could cost tourists either way. High infection rates may scare off some visitors, while a return to yellow or even orange lowers maximum capacity in hotels and restaurants anyway.
Travelers to the region are strongly advised to keep abreast of changes to restrictions and to test before and after heading to Cancun.
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