MEXICO CITY – Someone in a Charlie Brown costume greets frantically. A person dressed as a monkey pretends to take photos with a stuffed camera. An elderly man who has just received his second injection of the Pfizer vaccine grabs a microphone and begins to sing loudly.
“I’m 78, but they tell me I’m looking 75 and a half,” the man said cheerfully, the assessment supported by his apparent lung strength as he sang a ranchera song with abandon.
In an effort to improve customer service, vaccination centers in the Mexican capital now offer a range of entertainment options, including dancing, yoga, live opera performances, and the ability to watch greats. Shirtless Lucha Libre wrestlers do limbo.
The aim is to make the process as engaging as possible, said a woman leading a song and dance performance for people awaiting a shot at a military parade ground in Mexico City on a recent Wednesday.
“Put those little hands up!” she shouted sporadically at the elderly in her care.
“I’m doing it just to keep moving,” said Flora Goldberg, 86, who dutifully raised her arms up and down with the music after taking a photo.
The effort is all the more important given the alarming resurgence of the virus in Latin America and the spray vaccination efforts in many of its countries. Concerns have been compounded recently by the rapid spread of a variant of the virus first discovered in Brazil.
At the Mexico City vaccination center, women in white shirts led the crowd in various yoga poses that could be practiced in wheelchairs. The men performed tricks with a surprising number of soccer balls. A professional opera singer congratulated everyone.
“What a great day for Mexico,” he said, to considerable applause. “I’ll be here all week.”
The pandemic has not treated Mexico well. It is the country with the third highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, where the government has resisted the imposition of strict lockdowns, fearing damage to the economy, and which has not been tested on a large scale. , arguing that it was a waste of money.
Many believe that the only way out of this nightmare is mass vaccination, but the campaign had evolved frostily. By mid-April, however, the pace picked up nationwide – and after a bit of a mess at the start, the nation’s capital improved to effectively get gunfire.
“We quickly realized that with the strategy we had in place, we couldn’t care for older people with the level of service they deserved,” said Eduardo Clark, who helps coordinate the immunization program of the city.
At first, the capital had people vaccinated in dozens of schools and clinics in the city. Without senior officials in charge of these sites, the scenes often became chaotic. Seniors waited five hours to be shot, in the sun, on the sides of busy streets, Mr Clark said.
So the government consolidated all the vaccinations into several large sites – and soon the people running them started arguing over who could make the experience more memorable.
Mr Clark insists the city was not trying to make its vaccination campaign viral – “I wouldn’t say it’s all about the publicity,” he said. But when Mexican social media began to be inundated with videos of older people dancing after having a photo, “it made us really proud,” he said. “It almost made me cry.”
It’s hard to say if the show increases attendance, but those who arrive for a shot are, at least to some extent, comforted by all the activity, said Beatriz Esquivel, who coordinates vaccination sites on behalf of from the city.
The elderly feared that the vaccine would make them sick or that the government would inject them with air.
“People would come in really scared, really stressed out because they thought the vaccine would hurt them,” she said. “We wanted to relax and distract them.”
Ms Goldberg, the reluctant dancer, said the process of getting the vaccine had been orderly and efficient – contrary to her assessment of everything the government had done during the pandemic.
“It’s because of this man, better that I do not say his name, who said no to the masks,” she said. She did not say whether she was referring to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or his coronavirus czar Hugo López-Gatell, both of whom have a recurring relationship with wearing masks.
“We could have avoided thousands and thousands of deaths if from the start they had taken it seriously,” she said quietly, before a city worker pulled her out of the observation section.
Half an hour away, in the stadium that hosted the 1968 Olympics, Maria Silva, who had just received her second hit on AstraZeneca, danced with five Lucha Libre wrestlers in colorful masks, named Gravity, Bandido, Guerrero Olímpico, Hijo de Pirata Morgan and Ciclón Ramírez Jr.
“It’s a little bit of joy,” Ms. Silva shouted above the group who were playing a few feet away, nodding to the beat. “It revives what you’ve got inside.”
With the closure of the pandemic arenas, the government put Lucha Libre fighters to creative use, enlisting them to enforce mask wearing by pretending to accost people and now that.
“I am happy that they are cooperating here, in solidarity with the people,” said Francisca Rodríguez, whose husband’s wheelchair had been temporarily requisitioned by sweaty Ciclón Ramírez Jr..
Ms Rodríguez said Mr López Obrador had done an ‘excellent’ job of dealing with the pandemic, while acknowledging that the president had been beaten for refusing to vaccinate some workers in private hospitals, who say they are being kept waiting longer than those in public hospitals.
“There is a media war against President López Obrador right now,” she said emphatically. “Even the American newspapers are attacking the president.”
As people were vaccinated and dropped off in the area where they would be observed for adverse reactions, the wrestlers at Lucha Libre erupted in a “yes you could!” song.
“My kids are going to ask me what it was like, so I’m going to bring them some evidence,” said Luis González, 68, recording the performance on his cell phone.
When Mr González’s wife caught the coronavirus four months ago, he sat next to her, fanning her with a piece of cardboard to try and make more air available for breathing. After 38 years of marriage, he watched her die at their home, while waiting for an ambulance.
Mr. González sat in the front row long after his observation period ended, alone, watching the wrestlers dance.
“You feel emptiness, especially at night,” he says. “During the days, it’s easier to distract myself.”
Alejandro Cegarra contributed to the reporting.