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MEXICO CITY, Mexico, Fri. Sept 25 (Reuters) – Mexico was set to reach 75,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as the pandemic ravages Latin American nations with large informal economies where workers have grappled with the twin threats of hunger and contagion.

Mexico has the world’s fourth-highest coronavirus death toll, according to a Reuters tally, behind the United States, Brazil, and India. Despite closing schools and offices six months ago, the Mexican government has struggled to contain the virus’ spread.

More than half of Latin America’s active population have informal jobs in areas such as street commerce and domestic labor. In Mexico, working from home or strict social distancing measures can mean no income, since the welfare safety net is small.

The sprawling and densely populated working-class neighborhoods of Mexico City have been among the hardest hit in the region by the virus and the ensuing economic pain.

Alejandro Castillo, 68, never stopped selling colorful women’s leggings at his stall in Mexico City’s outdoor Tepito market during the pandemic, but sales have dropped to a third of what he is used to.

“It’s like a nightmare, because you can’t see when it’s going to end,” Castillo said.

Still, Castillo considers himself lucky. One fellow vendor and his son recently tested positive for COVID-19, two weeks after a nephew died of the disease. Another nephew of his colleague was so weakened by the virus that he can barely speak.

Latin America remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, even as infections spike again in Europe and the global death toll is likely to surpass 1 million this weekend.

In Mexico, numbers have remained stubbornly high for months even after coming off summer peaks, as the government prioritized increasing hospital capacity over tests and contact tracing.

The confirmed coronavirus caseload rose to 710,049 on Wednesday, according to updated data from the health ministry, along with a reported death toll of 74,949.

With the testing rate far below most other large countries, Mexican officials recognize the true numbers are much higher.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday reiterated that infections and deaths were declining.

“In Mexico we haven’t had – knock on wood – a new outbreak, we’re trending downwards in general,” he said in his morning news conference.

But for stall-holder Castillo the danger still feels uncomfortably present.

“Cases have been growing closer recently. And there’s still not really a policy to deal with the pandemic, at least that’s what we see,” Castillo said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Laura Gottesdiener; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)

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