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Mexico auto plants to reopen as country weighs virus risks

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says maybe May 17 in areas of the country that haven't been hit hard by the virus.


MEXICO CITY — On a day Mexico saw its worst daily increase yet in coronavirus cases, foreign-owned auto plants began setting dates for reopening.

Volkswagen de Mexico is planning to reopen its assembly plant in Puebla state and its engine factory in Guanajuato state on June 1.

General Motors said it hadn’t fixed “an exact date” for reopening its plant, also in the Guanajuato city of Silao, but some workers there reported getting notices to report for work on May 18.

Toyota, Nissan and Ford did not immediately respond to requests for comment on possible re-openings of their plants in Mexico.

Pressure is growing both domestically and from the US for Mexico to re-open manufacturing activities, something President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says could happen by May 17 in areas of the country that haven’t been hit hard by the virus.

Mexico has lost about 500,000 jobs because of the pandemic lockdown, and small store owners wrote a public letter to Lopez Obrador on May 6 complaining they can’t get stocks of basic supplies because hundreds of towns in Mexico have closed themselves off for fear of contagion.

In late March, the US government launched a campaign to get Mexico to reopen assembly plants, suggesting the supply chain of the North American free trade zone could be permanently affected if they didn’t resume production. Mexico has said it is working on a joint plan with the US and Canada to reopen factories, especially auto plants.

But the dangers of re-opening are evident. On May 7, Mexico reported its largest one-day increase so far in confirmed coronavirus cases, with almost 2,000 new infections nationwide – a 7.2% increase compared from May 6’s rise. Total deaths neared the 3,000 mark.

Volkswagen said in a statement it was reopening “with the aim of getting the needed elements together to ensure a stable supply chain.”

In a statement on its reopening plans, GM said: “We are waiting for the plan that the Economy Department will present for a gradual resumption of activities in the automotive industry. As soon as authorities present that plan, we will be able to restart GM operations” in Mexico.

But workers at the GM plant in Silao reported receiving messages with a GMC logo telling them to report for temperature checks and health questionnaires at the plant.

Mexico says it wants to be cautious, and indicates that hard-hit cities like Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Villahermosa probably won’t allow widespread business reopening anytime soon.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said re-opening “doesn’t mean that every place is going to get back to the same level of normality.”

In the past, officials have mentioned re-opening business in the least-affected states, but limiting inter-state travel through highway checkpoints. However, the usual measures practiced at such checkpoints – taking travellers’ temperatures and asking about symptoms – are of limited use in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

In some places, like the border assembly plants in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Tex., workers have demonstrated against being forced to work in close quarters and with inadequate protection measures.

 

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