Mexican president's past health woes sharpen focus on COVID-19 diagnosis


FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador addresses to the nation on his second anniversary as the President of Mexico, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, December 1, 2020. Photo taken December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's history of heart problems and high blood pressure will complicate doctors' efforts to combat the COVID-19 infection poised to undermine the towering role he has taken in public life.

The 67-year-old, who was a heavy smoker until he suffered a serious heart attack in 2013, said on Sunday he was being treated for mild symptoms of COVID-19.

"Health professionals are monitoring continuously in case there is a sign of alarm that could lead to hospitalization," health official Jose Luis Alomia Zegarra told a regular evening news conference.

Anybody with Lopez Obrador's health profile would be closely watched, including "regular monitoring of the vital signs, of oxygenation," Alomia added, in response to questions about the president's past heart problems and high blood pressure.

Although Lopez Obrador has vowed to keep working, he said for now he would step back from the 7 a.m. daily news conferences that have permeated the fabric of Mexican political life since he took office in December 2018.

Instead, his Interior Minister Olga Sanchez must take the reins at what are likely to be subdued events by comparison to Lopez Obrador's fiery lectures on where Mexico went wrong under previous administrations.

The veteran leftist made his diagnosis public at the end of Mexico's deadliest week in the pandemic, leaving it with the fourth-highest global tally of infections.

Saying he felt optimistic, Lopez Obrador added that he still planned to take a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to discuss the possible acquisition of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

Health ministry officials said tracing of Lopez Obrador's recent contacts has started. Several close aides have contracted the virus during the pandemic and he has always insisted that he is in good health.

Lopez Obrador quit smoking after his 2013 heart attack and says he has taken good care of himself since.

Despite his surging popularity during the pandemic, his management of the crisis has drawn heavy criticism from political adversaries, who say he has too often downplayed it, taking inadequate steps to combat it.

Lopez Obrador's two immediate predecessors, Enrique Pena Nieto and Felipe Calderon, wished him a quick recovery, but the previous incumbent, Vicente Fox, sent out Twitter messages critical of the government's handling of the pandemic.

The president has used his morning news conferences to paint all three men as part of a system of deeply-entrenched political graft he blames for violence, poverty and lackluster growth.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Dave Graham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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