López-Gatell was photographed over the weekend at what appears to be an oceanfront restaurant in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, in the tourist-friendly beach town of Zipolite. Soon the pictures spread on social media.
A Mexican government source confirmed the authenticity of the images.
In these photos, Lopez-Gatel can be seen sharing a table with a woman. He does not wear a muzzle, which is not required while sitting in restaurants that are allowed to open. Another viral picture, taken a few days ago, in the corridor of a plane, using his cell phone, showed his mask removed under his nose and chin.
Travel around Mexico is largely unrestricted at the moment, so the deputy health minister has done nothing illegal with travel, although he flouted his advice and the direction of local officials.
Many in Mexico are outraged by the apparent hypocrisy of the Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist, whose message was staying at homeOr, stay home, become a familiar phrase. Since the start of the pandemic, López-Gatell has held nightly press conferences that are widely broadcast in Mexico, urging people to wear masks properly and practice social distancing.
When asked about the trip at a news conference on Monday, Lopez-Gatel said: “I have nothing to hide. I simply went to the coast of Oaxaca … and I went to visit close relatives, very good friends, and we were in a very private house during those days.”
Sitting in front of a sign that says “staying at homeHe told reporters that the restaurant he was seen in was following public health rules, and indicated that the severity of Covid-19 varies between states.
Lopez-Gatel himself lives in the hardest-hit Mexico City, with nearly 30 public hospitals reporting 100% of their capacity, and many others approaching it. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has urged residents not to go out unless absolutely necessary.
The city has returned to the Red Alert, the nation’s highest coronavirus warning indicator, in more than two weeks. This has forced many businesses to shut down temporarily amid a mandate to halt all non-essential activities until at least Sunday.
New confirmed deaths and cases have risen steadily across the country since early October, and recent daily numbers have been some of the highest in the epidemic. The virus has killed more than 127,000 people.
When asked about Lopez Gatel’s travels, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that correspondents should direct these questions to the Deputy Foreign Minister, but it seemed that it justified the trip.
“He worked very hard, he was fulfilling his responsibilities,” said Lopez Obrador. “It is good to have such public scrutiny, but public officials have rights as well.”