Local media posted images of López-Gatell, Mexico’s undersecretary of health, sitting in the open-air restaurant in the laid-back beach resort of Zipolite, located in the country’s southern Oaxaca state. The area has mandatory rules about face masks.
In one of the photos, he was captured sitting at an outdoor bar with a woman — both without masks on.
In another photo, taken a few days earlier on a flight from Mexico City to the beach resort, López-Gatell was seen talking on a cellphone without a mask covering his nose and mouth, reports said.
His actions were deemed hypocritical as he has repeatedly urged Mexicans to stay home, while routinely giving updates on the pandemic’s toll in the country. His daily updates on the risks of the virus caused some to compare him with Dr. Anthony Fauci in the U.S.
“He’s traveling at the worst moment of the pandemic,” political writer Denise Dresser tweeted of López-Gatell, according to the paper. “He is far from where he should be: with health personnel, implementing the vaccination campaign, setting an example.”
Mexico’s coronavirus response leader Hugo López-Gatell points to a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine during its first applications into health workers at the General Hospital in Mexico City, early Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
But unlike Fauci, López-Gatell previously criticized the media for “being alarmist,” after Mexico surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from the virus last November.
“The epidemic is terrible in itself, you don’t have to add drama to it,” said López-Gatell. “Putting statistics on the front page doesn’t, in my view, help much.”
In response to the photo backlash, López-Gatell said he wasn’t in the wrong for going to Oaxaca to see friends and relatives. He noted that the virus alert level was lower there.
Meanwhile, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — who has been criticized for often not wearing a mask — downplayed López-Gatell’s actions, calling him “a good public servant.”
“It’s a good thing that there is this scrutiny, but a public servant has rights, too,” said López Obrador.
As of late Monday, Mexico has reported at least 1,455,219 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 127,757 deaths from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report