Local media published photos of Lopez Gatel, the Mexican undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, sitting in an open-air restaurant in the quiet beach resort of Zipolite, in the southern state of Oaxaca. The region has mandatory rules about face masks.
In one photo, he is captured sitting in an open-air bar with a woman – both without masks.
In another photo, taken a few days ago on a trip from Mexico City to the beach resort, Lopez-Gatel was seen talking on a mobile phone without a mask covering his nose and mouth, reports said.
His actions were seen as hypocritical because he repeatedly urged Mexicans to stay home, while he routinely provided updates on the toll of the epidemic in the country. His daily updates on the dangers of the virus have compared him to Dr. Anthony Fauci in the US
“He is traveling at the worst moment of the epidemic,” political writer Dennis Dresser said in a tweet about Lopez Gatel. “He’s far from where he should be: with health workers, carrying out a vaccination campaign, setting an example.”
But unlike Fauci, Lopez-Gatel previously criticized the media for being “worried”, after Mexico passed the bleak milestone of 100,000 virus deaths last November.
“The epidemic is horrific in and of itself, you don’t have to add drama to it,” said Lopez Gatel. “Putting the stats on the front page, in my opinion, doesn’t help much.”
In response to the backlash to the photos, Lopez Gatel said he was not at fault for going to Oaxaca to see friends and relatives. He noted that the virus warning level was lower there.
Meanwhile, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – who has been criticized for not wearing a mask often – played down the significance of Lopez Gatel’s actions, calling him a “good civil servant”.
“It’s good to have this scrutiny,” said Lopez Obrador, “but the public servant has rights as well.”
As of late Monday, Mexico had reported at least 1,455,219 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 127,757 deaths from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report