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Mexico nears 700,000 COVID-19 cases, real toll unknown

MEXICO CITY, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Mexico closed in on a total of 700,000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, though authorities acknowledge the true number of infections in the country ranked No. 6 in COVID-19 cases globally is higher.

Mexico has the fourth highest number of deaths attributed to the pandemic.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported 3,542 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country, bringing the total to 697,663 as well as a cumulative death toll of 73,493.

But authorities including Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who has been the public face of the government’s coronavirus strategy, has conceded that the real number of cases in the country is significantly higher.

Lopez-Gatell argues that the outbreak in Mexico has shown signs of slowing over the past couple months, however.

“We’ve now seen seven consecutive weeks of a downward-sloping trend,” he said at a news conference Sunday, referring to the rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was criticized early on for minimizing the health crisis, still encouraging families to go out to restaurants even as other countries were imposing lockdown measures. He has very rarely used a mask in public. (Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez and Josue Gonzalez Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Brown)

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