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Pemex’s Virus Death Toll Soars Higher Than Nurses in Mexico

Amy Stillman

(Bloomberg) -- It may be safer to be a nurse at a public hospital in Mexico than a Pemex worker when it comes to Covid-19.

A report from the health ministry released on Monday showed that 16 nurses have died from the deadly virus. Petroleos Mexicanos, the state oil company, reported the deaths of 28 workers and one contract worker over the same period. Pemex has about 30% fewer employees than there are nurses in the public health care system.

While it may be less dangerous to be a nurse, numbers for deaths of doctors are slightly higher than for Pemex workers, at 66 as of Monday.

Another 12 Pemex workers have died since Monday from the fast-spreading coronavirus, including four more deaths reported on Friday. The 40 deceased Pemex workers represent almost 1% of the 4,767 registered deaths from Covid-19 in Mexico.

Pemex has been criticized for not moving quickly enough to prevent the virus from spreading. It began evacuating offshore platform workers in late April. In March, hundreds of people including Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gathered at Pemex’s offices in Mexico City to celebrate Mexico’s oil expropriation of 1938, a holiday, even as coronavirus cases surged globally and international health authorities urged countries to practice social distancing.

Mirrors Government

Pemex’s actions mirror that of the federal government, which was slow to enforce a national lockdown, and has chosen not to shut down its ports of entry or restrict visitors from countries with a high number of Covid-19 cases.

“Given the country’s lack of enforcement of social distancing and overall attitude, it demands even more rigorous protocols and enforcement by companies,” said John Padilla, managing director of IPD Latin America. “That makes it particularly more of an issue for Pemex, which is connected with the government in the way we are witnessing today.”

Pemex operates 24 hospitals in the country to treat its workers and their families, but none of the deceased Pemex workers were doctors or medical personnel, according to a representative of Pemex, who asked not to be identified, citing company policy.

“Pemex continues to implement a comprehensive prevention model to minimize the spread of Covid-19 among our workers, retirees, and their families,” Pemex said in a statement Thursday evening. “Healthy distance measures continue to be intensified, work at home for administrative activities and vulnerable personnel, sanitary filters, cleaning and sanitation in work centers, and distancing of operational personnel.”

Tough Timing

The virus toll couldn’t come at a worse time for Pemex. The state driller has been pummeled by the global oil price crash and faces a major fuel glut due to the drop in demand. It posted a $23 billion record loss in the first quarter and its debt is the highest of any oil major, at more than $100 billion.

Lopez Obrador has faced criticism from ratings agencies for suspending the oil auctions started by his predecessor that enabled Pemex to share the burden of developing Mexico’s oil fields with partners. Pemex’s bonds were plunged into junk territory by Moody’s Investors Service last month, following several other downgrades by Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings.

“As Pemex now has numerous cases, we will have to wait to see if this starts to have impact on production and operations,” said IPD’s Padilla.

(Updates death toll in fourth paragraph.)

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