Medical tourism taking hit with border restrictions in place

Coronavirus

Juarez medical professionals stress that health-care travel is still allowed; some have closed for lack of clients

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Lucio Cano has sold low-cost prescription medicines to Americans for the past 23 years. Some are repeat customers he knows by name and whom he’s stayed in touch with over the years.

Now, as international travel and stay-at-home restrictions at several Texas cities are put in place due to COVID-19, Cano is relying on a few Mexican customers to stay afloat.

“Sales are down … I estimate by 60 percent,” the owner of Farmacia Crystal on Avenida Americas said. “I’ve only seen this happen once before, during the drug violence of 2009-2010. Back then, nobody came. Now, business is just as bad.”

Next door, a doctor and a dentist have shut their office doors. Cano hopes it’s only temporary. But iron bars and aluminum pull-down gates are now the norms along Americas, Lincoln, Juarez and Lerdo avenues, where most of the businesses catering to American tourists are located.

“We’re not selling much. Most of our clients are from El Paso, and hardly anyone is coming across,” said the manager of Farmacia Familiar on Juarez Avenue a block away from the Paso del Norte port of entry to the United States.

Juarez Avenue, one of the main tourist draws in Juarez, Mexico, was a ghost town on Friday. Merchants blame both the current U.S.-Mexico travel restrictions as well as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in El Paso and Juarez. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Mexican craft stores, mariachi restaurants and bars that have been attracting Americans for generations are closed due to coronavirus-prevention restrictions. Doctors, dentists and eye-glass shops can stay open but many remain closed for lack of U.S. visitors.

Those that are open insist that their employees wear surgical masks. “These are difficult days,” said Carlos Carrasco, lowering his mask to answer questions from Border Report outside a dentist’s office on Avenida Juarez. “Nobody’s coming across.”

Carrasco handed fliers promoting the dental office to a few Mexican passers-by and even construction workers fixing up the street.

Cano said business shouldn’t be this bad, given that El Pasoans can still travel to Mexico for health-related reasons.

“Legal residents and citizens from El Paso can still come, but many people think they can’t cross the border. Clients are calling me to ask if they can come […] yes, there is a lot of misinformation,” the pharmacist said.

However, some are putting off dental procedures and scheduled medical care in Juarez out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Cano said his wife, a dentist, has stopped working for fear of contagion.

“Dentists have to get very close to you, probe around your mouth. Right now, that could be risky,” he said.

For more information on the current U.S.-Mexico non-essential travel restrictions, visit this U.S. State Department page.

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