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Travel Restrictions Hinder Economic Recovery In Mexico's Tourist Towns

LAUREN GILGER: Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its highest level advisory against travel to Mexico, warning that all travel to the country should be avoided because of the high risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. On top of that, travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border implemented in March to slow the spread of the virus, are also set to remain in place until at least Dec. 21. And here to talk with us more about what these travel warnings mean on both sides of the border is KJZZ's Kendal Blust from our Fronteras Desk in Hermosillo. Good morning, Kendal.


GILGER: OK, so let's start with why the CDC is warning against travel to Mexico right now. Like, what's the situation like in Mexico? How bad is the spread of COVID-19 there?

BLUST: Well, it hasn't been good. Mexico, like the U.S., is experiencing widespread transmission of COVID-19. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen the country hit and surpass one million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 100,000 deaths. And here in Sonora, we're hitting daily case counts now that we haven't seen since this summer. So there's a lot of concern about what's going to happen with this new surge heading into the holiday season. But Mexico actually isn't the only country that has a Level 4 advisory from the CDC. There are dozens of countries right now where people are being advised not to travel, including within the U.S. I think, though, one of the reasons this advisory against going to Mexico is so significant is because it's such a popular destination for U.S. travelers. And for our listeners in Arizona, places like Rocky Point are just a few hours away, and visiting might not feel like a huge risk. Plus, right now and this time of year, in addition to tourists, there are usually thousands of Mexican expats living in the U.S. who travel back to Mexico for the holidays. Travel between the U.S. and Mexico is just incredibly common and therefore a real concern as both countries are seeing this alarming increase in cases and deaths. And also, as you had mentioned, there are some restrictions for cross-border travel at the land ports right now, but they haven't done much to stop U.S. citizens from traveling back and forth, and they don't apply to flights. And something that's important to highlight from the CDC advisory is that it warns people who travel that if they become infected with COVID-19, that they could be required to isolate or prevented from coming back to the United States as planned.

GILGER: Oh, wow. Wow. OK, so all of this adds up to quite a lot less travel to and from Mexico, I'm sure. What's the reaction been to this ban from the CDC there in Mexico?

BLUST: Well, Mexican leaders continue to say they support these measures like cross-border restrictions. But at the same time, the message they're sending to travelers seems to be, "Keep coming." Especially in tourist destinations, places like Rocky Point, they're still putting out ads telling would-be visitors that they are open for business. And again, flights to Mexico are open, and travelers aren't being required to undergo any kind of extensive COVID screenings.

GILGER: We also know the economy there is already hurting, of course, because of the pandemic. What effect could this have on businesses across the border which rely so heavily on people coming across to shop, etc.?

BLUST: Yes, you're completely right. The economy is the big driver here. Rocky Point, for example, has treaded this careful line, trying to reactivate its tourism-driven economy but trying to keep coronavirus cases low. And at the end of the day, the city, its businesses and families just can't go without tourists. So they're pushing for people to keep coming because they've seen what it was like when they did close earlier. And here there isn't any kind of government support to speak of to help struggling business owners or people who are out of work. So they're sort of stuck in this tight spot where there are concerns about the virus, but a lot of people don't feel like they have much choice. They rely on U.S. tourists for their livelihoods. And now they have to rely on them basically to behave safely and responsibly and hopefully not endanger the communities they're visiting.

GILGER: All right. That's all we'll have time for today. That's KJZZ's Kendal Blust joining us from our Fronteras Desk in Hermosillo, Mexico. Kendal, thank you so much for coming on to talk about this.

BLUST: Yeah, thank you, Lauren.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.