Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus death toll surpassed India’s on Thursday to become the world’s third-highest, after months in which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the virus as his government scrambled to control it.
As of Friday morning, Mexico had recorded 155,145 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. That is about 66,000 less than the official death toll in Brazil, the hardest-hit country after the United States.
Hospitals nationwide, particularly in Mexico City, are straining to provide beds and ventilators. Doctors are overwhelmed. People have been lining up to refill tanks of oxygen for relatives who are gasping for air in their homes.
Mexico has reported more than 1.8 million cases, and its caseload has surged since early December. The daily average number of new infections over the past week — 16,319 — was the seventh-highest in the world, just behind France.
The country’s death toll has been rising quickly, too, even as Mr. López Obrador insists that the end of the pandemic’s devastation is just around the corner. The average of 1,281 daily deaths in Mexico over the past week is higher than Britain’s and second only to the United States’.
And for all that, the disease’s true impact on Mexico is probably far worse than official figures indicate.
Testing levels are low, and many infected people are staying home because they distrust hospitals. A New York Times investigation found in May that the government was not reporting hundreds, possibly thousands, of coronavirus deaths in Mexico City.
When Mr. López Obrador said this week that he, too, had the virus, few Mexicans were surprised. He had spent months minimizing the pandemic by claiming that religious amulets protected him, for example, and refusing to wear a mask.
He has worked through his illness, saying on Monday that he had spoken with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Mexico’s top epidemiologist, Hugo López-Gatell, told reporters on Thursday that Mr. López Obrador was experiencing minimal symptoms.
Some people in Mexico worry that Mr. López Obrador, 67, will go back to minimizing the danger of the coronavirus after he recovers with help from top-notch medical treatment, just as President Donald J. Trump did after a Covid-19 infection in October.
In Mexico City this week, Lilia Ramírez Díaz was making the second trip of the day to refill an oxygen tank for her father, who has diabetes and has been battling Covid-19 at home.
Both Mr. López Obrador and her father contracted the virus, she said in an interview, but the president “doesn’t have to go around looking and begging for an oxygen tank.”