Covid-19 spread throughout Latin America’s largest market

Health workers walk around the Central de Abasto market in Mexico City, Mexico, to measure people 's body temperature. Photo: Washington Post.
Health workers walk around the Central de Abasto market in Mexico City, Mexico, to measure people 's body temperature. Photo: Washington Post.

Despite a cold, Martin Mateo did not believe in nCoV and continued to sell tomatoes at Central de Abasto market, Mexico City, and died a few days later.

From mid-April to mid-May, at least 10 tomato sellers at Central de Abasto, the largest Latin American food market located in the Mexican capital, died of nCoV. Antonio Samano, Mateo’s cousin, and a stall worker next to him also died in the pandemic.

“Here we do not believe Covid-19 is a threat. But when we saw one by one we left without a doubt,” said Anastasio Ramon Alonso, another longtime tomato seller in the market, for good.

On April 26, Hector Garcia, manager of the Central de Abasto market, announced that the nCoV was discovered in a 3.3 km2 wholesale market. This information is cause for concern because this is the food supply for 22/32 states in Mexico. Supermarkets, restaurants and families all depend on 90,000 people working in the market.

Mateo has been selling goods at Central de Abasto for more than three decades. The 50-year-old man suffered from high blood pressure, one of the dangerous factors for people infected with nCoV, and died on April 18.

Many of Mateo’s colleagues also suffer from chronic illnesses, such as David Hernandez, a diabetic who died from nCoV in mid-April. On the other side of Mateo’s booth, Isaac Pluma, another diabetic, remained go to work despite a cold. Every time he went up the stairs, the 46-year-old man wheezed.

“The owner tried to persuade Pluma to leave, but he did not agree because he needed money,” recalls Enrique González, who works with Pluma. Pluma died on April 21.

The deaths left Pedro Hernandez, a quieter living in the market, panicked because he also had diabetes. In late April, Hernandez decided to stop working, despite his healthy appearance. However, the 58-year-old man died in early May.

Nearly three-quarters of all deaths due to nCoV in Mexico are associated with underlying conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes. Increasing consumption of ready-to-eat foods and soft drinks in recent decades, especially in poorer neighborhoods, has increased obesity and other chronic diseases. .

Before Mexico reported the first cases of nCoV, epidemiologists were concerned about the impact of a pandemic on a country experiencing a nutritional crisis. “We know the health deterioration over the last 30-40 years will have to be paid for,” said Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexican official in charge of Covid-19, in late March.

After announcing the outbreak in Central de Abasto, Mexican City market authorities and officials took action to rein in the nCoV. They sent 430 health workers to the market to measure their body temperature and asked people about the symptoms, conducted tests and called for the use of a mask and antibacterial hand sanitizer. However, salespeople thought the move was too late.

“We were in a defensive position,” said Rafael Vergara, who manages a business at Central de Abasto. Since mid-April until now, 12/30 Vergara employees have been ill, making him forced to take his team to private clinics for testing.

However, few businesses act similarly. The Mexican government also does not pursue a strategy of mass testing and contact tracing. Officials explain that this practice is not practical for a nation of 128 million people.

Because they did not get tested, most workers at Central de Abasto market were unaware that they were infected with the virus. “Many people feel tired, but refuse to go home. They continue to work,” Vergara said.

The Mexican government launched a major community campaign about Covid-19, with nightly press conferences, but still could not persuade the tomato sellers in the market, as people tended to disbelieve themselves. permission.

Activist Irene Tello Arista said that suspicion stems from underlying causes, pointing out that many residents lack even basic public services, such as safe water. “They think that if the government has never looked at them, what is the reason now to be concerned?” Arista explained.

Rumors spread around the vegetable stalls in the Central de Abasto market that the hospital was a dangerous place and doctors intentionally killed. Though absurd, many salespeople still believe the story, because they are accustomed to the weak health care system.

Carlos Mateo, son of Martin Mateo, said his father and Uncle Samano were initially misdiagnosed as a cold and were taken home. However, they all died that same day. Carlos himself also infected with nCoV, but fortunately recovered. Mateo’s case shows that the virus easily spreads within the family, as well as between colleagues and friends.

The goal of protecting the workers at Central de Abasto has never been easy. The market provides 80% of food for Mexico City, including 7,418 stores, with about 300,000 buyers and delivery staff visiting every day, so it cannot be closed.

To complicate matters further, the organization in the market is very fragmented. Market management only employs about 1,000 of the 90,000 workers there, mostly domestic workers and administrative staff. The rest works for business owners who own or rent the store.

Some employers try to act responsibly by giving employees time off from paid work. However, not everyone can enjoy this luxury rest. “People with money can stay at home for one, two, even three months. But those who make a living every day like us don’t have such financial background,” said Jaime Garcia, a 66-year-old shopkeeper in the market. good.

According to Pedro Torres, president of an association of fruit and vegetable sellers in Central de Abasto, no one knows the number of people who died of nCoV in the market, only rumors. “Many say there are hundreds of victims, others say the number is in the thousands, but we do not have accurate statistics,” Torres said.

Interviews with vendors in the market show that at least dozens of people were killed. Israel Gonzalez, a green chili seller, received news that nine people around the area where he sold died from nCoV.

Erik Cesario, another chili vendor, knew about 25 people. “The epidemic struck us horribly,” Cesario said. Many bosses were at home, but employees could not because of economic difficulties.

Jorge Ochoa, Mexico City’s senior health official, said the actions of the capital government helped control nCoV at the market. More than 2,500 people were tested, detecting 543 cases. “The strategy at Central de Abasto is one of our greatest successes,” he said.

However, workers at the market said the pandemic was curbed by dozens of stall owners who decided to close for weeks, only recently resuming operations.

“No one believed what the government said, until the appearance of the dead, and then everyone pulled together to leave,” tomato seller Jorge Amaro said.