Mexico tops 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, 4th country to do so

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Dr. Victor Hugo Santamaria tests 2-year-old Regina Chavez for COVID-19 as she is held by her mother Edith Monserrat Bautista, in a tent set up to perform rapid coronavirus testing at the TAPO bus station in the Venustiano Carranza borough of Mexico City, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in confirmed COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, becoming only the fourth country to do so. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY – A day after Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in confirmed COVID-19 deaths, becoming only the fourth country to do so, its president and the mayor of its capital struck dramatically different tones.

With 100,823 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, Mexico trailed only the United States, Brazil and India.

Mexico's number includes only test-confirmed deaths; the true toll is far higher. In late October, a government study of excess mortality found that a total of about 140,000 deaths this year were probably attributable to the new coronavirus, a number that has only grown since then.

The milestone came less than a week after Mexico topped 1 million registered coronavirus infections, though officials agree that number is also probably much higher because of low levels of testing.

Coverage of the back-to-back milestones has raised the hackles of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who suggested Friday that criticism of the country's pandemic polices are political attacks and compared critics to “vultures.” His administration has cast doubt on the usefulness of face masks — the president almost never wears one — and has defended its low rate of testing.

“Why change?” he said Friday of his administration's pandemic policies. “Just because the ones who used to steal and loot don't like what we are doing, or don't like seeing us in power? "

Mexico’s point man on the pandemic, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, bristled Thursday when asked about Mexico reaching 100,000 deaths, criticizing the media for “being alarmist." López-Gatell has angrily rejected criticisms that the government is undercounting COVID-19 deaths or providing contradictory and weak advice on using face masks and repeatedly downplayed the importance of testing.

“The epidemic is terrible in itself, you don’t have to add drama to it,” said López-Gatell, suggesting some media outlets were focusing on the number of deaths to sell newspapers or spark “political confrontation.”