Mexico City (AFP) - Streets are deserted and daily activity has come to an almost standstill in much of Mexico due to the coronavirus pandemic but experts warn that any dip in crime will likely be only temporary.
Mexico suffered its most violent year on record in 2019 with 35,588 murders, according to official figures.
Such grim statistics are expected to drop should the government decide to take more extreme measures to stop the spread of the virus outbreak, such as a national lockdown.
But that won't affect the bleak outlook for crime in the country, says security analyst Alejandro Hope.
"So far violence isn't down, the data from February and March show that we're more or less the same as 2019, maybe higher," he said.
"However, if the restraining measures are tightened, there should be a change in crime patterns."
Mexico recorded 5,751 murders during the first two months of 2020, according to figures from the public security secretariat (SESNSP).
"A quarantine, with strict restraining measures, would result in fewer people in the streets, hence fewer robberies, probably fewer murders and burglaries; but when the social isolation ends, violence will undoubtedly return," Hope said.
With more than 400 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths, Mexico on Tuesday brought forward "phase two" of its outbreak response, which includes social distancing, school closures, travel limitations and remote working.
Catalina Perez Correa, a Stanford University professor, says having fewer people in the streets will reduce the opportunity for murders and extorsion.
But "if there are more people unemployed as a result of the economic recession brought on by COVID-19, what measures will the government take once we overcome the health episode?" she said.
The pandemic could have knock-on effects on Mexico's economy -- Latin America's second largest -- more serious than the disease itself, including a crime wave, some experts believe.
Mexico's peso hit a historic low this week, dropping below 25 to the US dollar while the Mexican stock exchange has suffered major losses.
"Unemployment will increase exponentially because businesses will slash staff," said Enrique Rodriguez, a lawyer and political consultant.
"The economic pressure we will soon face will provoke an increase in crime, more thefts, murders. Unfortunately that's a phenomenon we've already seen," he added.
Violence against women
Specialists also believe murders of women will rise.
While murders fell 1.8 percent in February, compared to 2019, femicides actually increased by 24 percent.
The national women's institute and the Mujeres NGO say that isolation requirements brought on by the virus will increase tension within homes, increasing the risk of domestic violence.
"Before the health emergency, the most important social events in Mexico were the feminists demonstrations demanding an end to violence against women," said Perez Correa.
"In other countries, due to the quarantines, women are in prolonged confinements, we don't know in what conditions."
Mexican women took part in a historic protest on March 8 on International Women's Day and a national strike the next day to demand an end to femicide.
There were more than 1,000 femicides in 2019, according to official calculations, which activists claim are a gross underestimation.
Maria de la Luz Estrada, the coordinator of Mexico's femicide citizen's observatory, said the government needs to consider establishing suitable shelters for women and make easier for them to denounce aggressions during this period.
Despite the complicated security and health situation, Rodriguez remains optimistic.
"I see an overwhelmed government and a society that is much more conscious. Calling for unity seems to me the most coherent approach to confront together the problems that threaten us," he said.