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Despite Pandemic Concerns, Tourists Travel To Mexico For Spring Break

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's continued commitment to covering the world includes coverage of spring break. Last week, an NPR team gave an early look at spring break in Miami Beach, where many people ignored pandemic precautions and celebrations eventually led to some chaos. Now we can report that some beaches in Mexico are filled with American tourists.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's hard to see the beautiful white powder sand on one of Cancun's most popular beaches, it's so packed with partiers.

ROHAN ANTONY: My name is Rohan Antony. I am at Mandala Beach. This is one of the craziest parties that I've ever been to. I'm with all my homies.

KAHN: Antony is with eight of his friends all spring break from DePaul University in Chicago, chugging beers in the gentle turquoise blue surf. Back home, Antony says, it's masks all the time.

ANTONY: We come out here, ain't nobody wearing masks. It's very concerning. But at the same time, are you really going to be the only one wearing a mask? You dig? You dig?

KAHN: None of the students was worried that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against travel to Mexico, nor that a negative COVID tests taken no more than three days prior to arrival is needed to get back into the U.S. Antony says no problem - it's included in his all-inclusive resort package.

ANTONY: Free drinks, free food, free COVID testing.

KAHN: Hotels and resorts are pulling out all the stops to lure vacationers back to Mexico. After a disastrous 2020, international travel to the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, plummeted by 50%, a devastating blow as more than 80% of the state's economic activity depends on tourism.

JUAN CARLOS VIVEROS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: City bus driver Juan Carlos Viveros says he was out of work for three months last year because of the pandemic. He sits in a small park downtown enjoying an ice cream cone and says he's grateful tourists are returning.

VIVEROS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Look, we all have to learn how to live with this pandemic," he says. He doesn't want authorities to restrict tourists too much, but hopes visitors follow the rules.

Health experts have been warning of a potential third wave of the pandemic following the busy spring break/Easter vacation season. COVID has already hit Mexico hard. It has the third-highest death toll in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Cancun, masked parishioners sit staggered in the pews, well-distanced. Seems everyone here knows someone who had COVID or had it themselves, like 42-year-old Reyia Barrera.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

KAHN: The virus swept through her entire family. Her mom was hospitalized. She's not happy that the state authorities, just weeks before spring break season began, eased up on restrictions. Hotels and restaurants are now allowed to go up to 60% occupancy. Masks are still mandatory indoors, and bars and clubs are closed. She says authorities should be stricter.

REYIA BARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Especially with the foreigners, we don't even know if they're healthy when they get here."

Mexico does not require a negative COVID test to enter the country. Earlier this month, the Mexican lab in Cancun was found to have falsified COVID test results for dozens of Argentine tourists. Many tested positive after landing back home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: Meanwhile, up and down Mexico's Caribbean coast, the party continues. Tiffany Harbor, a paralegal from LA, and her friend Ashanti Stewart said they had no problem finding clubs open well into the morning and just slept all day.

TIFFANY HARBOR: We just came out of our hotel right now (laughter). We missed the whole day (laughter).

KAHN: They both have had COVID and aren't scared of getting it again. If they were to test positive here, Harbor says, it wouldn't be so terrible.

HARBOR: We're both working remotely, so we could work from here. It doesn't matter (laughter).

KAHN: And ride it out this time with a great view of the Caribbean.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Cancun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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