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Funeral singers in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl. Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty

While the massive coronavirus outbreaks in Brazil and the United States have garnered global attention in recent weeks, the per capita death rate has actually been higher in the hemisphere’s third giant: Mexico.

Why it matters: The three populist-led countries have combined for roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths recorded worldwide over the past two weeks. Worse still, Mexico’s outbreak has yet to peak, according to Johns Hopkins University.

  • Mexico has one of the highest fatality rates in the world — over the last 24 hours, for example, Mexico recorded 10% as many cases as the U.S. but more deaths — likely because few people are tested before they're seriously ill.
  • The health care system has struggled to cope, while the messaging from the government has been inconsistent.
  • As recently as late March, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was encouraging Mexicans to continue to hug, kiss and gather in groups.
  • The leftist leader has argued that the poor can't afford to quarantine and stressed that, virus or no virus, life must go on.

Where things stand: The outlook for the newly reopening economy is bleak, due to the conjoined crashes in oil prices, remittances and tourism.

  • The IMF projects a 10.5% contraction this year, while the UN says 17 million Mexicans could be living in extreme poverty by year’s end, up from 11 million now.

López Obrador has made far more bullish projections, and stunned observers by deciding against any major stimulus spending beyond micro-loans to small businesses.

  • Roberta Jacobson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico until 2018, tells Axios that his thinking seems to be shaped by Mexico’s history of debt crises and inflation.
  • But that lack of assistance will be keenly felt, particularly as foreign investment had already "all but dried up" before the pandemic due in part to López Obrador's hostility toward big business.
  • The president's decision-making — including doubling down on infrastructure megaprojects and the indebted state oil company — "seems to be really out of step with the rest of the world,” Jacobson says.

Flashback: López Obrador's maverick streak helped him sweep to a landslide election victory two years ago this week.

  • His approval ratings have fallen from the stratosphere (72% this time last year) but remain in the high 50s.
  • Still, he’s under pressure from multiple directions. Mexico’s security challenges were laid bare again on Friday when Mexico City’s police chief was shot in an apparent assassination attempt.
  • Mexico's politics are also growing "more polarized and nastier," Jacobson says, just as they are in the U.S.

What to watch: López Obrador can perhaps commiserate on that fact next month with President Trump, whom he's planning to visit in the White House to mark the new North American trade deal.

  • That announcement was yet another surprise from López Obrador, who has yet to leave Mexico as president. He defended it today, declaring, “I am not a sellout."
  • It's unclear how he'll make his way to Washington. After taking office, he put the presidential plane up for sale.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.

Kamala Harris resigns from Senate seat ahead of inauguration

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris submitted her resignation from her seat in the U.S. Senate on Monday, two days before she will be sworn into her new role.

What's next: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to serve out the rest of Harris' term, which ends in 2022.