March 26, 2020, day whatever of the COVID-19 global crisis, and we’re here to report that Mexico City is still hopping. We’re not going to say that things are normal — they’re not — but we took a bike ride up Av. Alvaro Obregon in central Colonia Roma at lunch time today and the stores and restaurants were open with customers. There’s no question that foot traffic is way down (vehicle traffic was fairly heavy), but there were people out there ordering their glasses of wine or beer while perusing menus at outdoor cafes. The media are telling us that this is not the case in most of Europe right now, so maybe it’s no wonder that the occasional tourist couple can still be seen stubbornly sticking out the remainder of their Mexico City vacation.
The sun has been scorching all week here in the Mexican capital and if you want to drink micheladas at an outdoor cafe you are welcome to indulge yourself, so the contrast with bleak scenes of empty streets in Rome and Madrid is all the more stark. We repeat, it’s not like Mardi Gras here or anything, but there is a good bit of traffic on the streets and people are still out getting things done. Mexico’s reluctance to go into lockdown even became something of a trending topic in international media in recent days, with several of the stories focusing on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO)’s refusal to lead by example with regard to social distancing. Unlike the president, top health officials and Mexico City head of government Claudia Sheinbaum have been anything but evasive regarding the current crisis, holding frequent press conferences and televised addresses to urge safe practices and announce new restrictions. They have made no secret, however, about their aversion to shutting down most economic activity, due to the outsized impact this would have on the large portions of society that must earn money daily to survive. As a result, most retail businesses appear to remain open, even though they have significantly fewer walk-up customers. As a number of merchants have commented to us over the past 10 days, “we’re just going to keep opening up every day until they shut us down. What else can we do?”