Fleeing lockdown, Americans are flock to Mexico City – where the coronavirus is surging


MEXICO CITY — At first, life in lockdown was OK, between working from home, exercising with his roommate, and devouring everything on Netflix.

But as the coronavirus pandemic wore endlessly on, Rob George began to find the confinement in his West Hollywood home unbearable.

“There were weeks where I just wouldn’t leave my house, just working all day — my mental health was definitely suffering,” said Mr. George, 31, who manages business operations for a technology start-up.

So when a Mexican friend said he was traveling to Mexico City in November, Mr. George decided to tag along. Now, he’s calling the Mexican capital home — part of an increasing number of foreigners, mainly Americans, who are heading to Mexico, for a short trip or a longer stay to escape restrictions at home.

They are drawn partly by the prospect of bringing a little normalcy to their lives in a place where coronavirus restrictions have been more relaxed than at home, even as cases of Covid-19 shatter records. Some of them are staying, at least for a while, and taking advantage of the six-month tourist visa Americans are granted on arrival.

“I have no interest in going back,” Mr. George said.

But while coming to this country may be a relief for many foreigners, particularly those fleeing colder weather, some Mexicans find the move irresponsible amid a pandemic, especially as the virus overwhelms Mexico City and its hospitals. Others say the problem lies with Mexican authorities, who waited too long to enact strict lockdown measures, making places like Mexico City enticing to outsiders.

“If it was less attractive, fewer people would come,” said Xavier Tello, a Mexico City health policy analyst. “But what we’re creating is a vicious cycle, where we’re receiving more people, who are potentially infectious or infected from elsewhere, and they keep mixing with people that are potentially infectious or infected here in Mexico City.”

In November, more than half a million Americans came to Mexico — of those, almost 50,000 arrived at Mexico City’s airport, according to official figures, less than half the number of U.S. visitors who arrived in November last year, but a surge from the paltry 4,000 that came in April, when much of Mexico was shut down. Since then, numbers have ticked up steadily: between June and August, U.S. visitors more than doubled.

Most other U.S. visitors to Mexico flew to beach resorts like Los Cabos and Cancun.

“What Mexico needs most is people so that the economy improves,” said William Velázquez Yañez, 25, who was working as a valet parking attendant at an upscale eatery in Roma Norte before the latest lockdown was put in place.

He lost his job at the start of the pandemic, and even though he was eventually called back, his pay was cut and his health insurance taken away. With more people dining out, his boss might start paying him more, Mr. Velázquez said.

But enjoying packed dining rooms or other activities once considered normal carries their own risks.

Nicole Jodoin moved to Mexico City from Canada after securing a job here in July. Part of her impetus was that with Canadian borders closed, she had found herself cut off from her Scottish boyfriend. Mexico’s open borders and lengthy tourist visas for Europeans offered them a chance to be together.

Then both she and her partner got sick with Covid-19. They had been taking precautions, Ms. Jodoin said, but had dined out several times and taken Ubers before getting sick. The couple self-isolated and have since recovered, but Ms. Jodoin’s symptoms have persisted.

Still, most foreigners say life is better in Mexico City than back home. Ms. Araneta, the former New Yorker, went to visit her family in San Diego in November, but found being in the United States a challenge.

“It felt more isolated,” she said. “A lot of people are much more on their own.”



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