Mexico shuts down public sites to combat swine flu

29th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The world-famous Aztec and Mayan pyramids, bars, cafes, gyms, cinemas and even football stadiums have been shut down until further notice.

MEXICO CITY – Mexico closed down virtually every public space in the capital, desperately trying to keep the lid on a swine flu outbreak that has sparked fears a deadly global pandemic is at hand.

Even as the government revised down its confirmed death toll, other nations increased their tallies of people who have or could have the sometimes fatal illness, which is baffling medical experts and sparking international concern.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its warning level to Phase 4 on a 1-6 scale, which indicates the illness is being passed from person to person, although officials said much about the outbreak was still unknown.

"We don't have information on how it acts, how it transmits," said Gregory Hartl of the WHO, which was to convene experts from affected countries later Wednesday to review what is known about the illness.

With fears rising of easy transmission between people, Mexico City authorities shut down bars, cafes, gyms, cinemas and even football stadiums, while similar measures were taken in other parts of the country.

Eateries were only permitted to serve takeaway meals and famous tourist sites, including the world-famous Aztec and Mayan pyramids, were closed until further notice.

Mexico, the epicentre of the current outbreak, revised down its confirmed number of swine flu dead to seven from 20. But there are still more than 100 suspected deaths, and more than 1,600 suspected infections.

Germany confirmed three cases of people infected,  hours after Costa Rica also joined the list.

Other nations meanwhile announced their infection tallies had increased.

Authorities in Israel, New Zealand and Spain increased their confirmed cases of infection with the virus, believed to be a previously unseen amalgam of different flu viruses.

"We are dealing with a new strain of influenza," said Richard Besser, acting head of the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC).

Experts say the current virus – a version of swine flu identified as A/H1N1 – cannot be caught from eating meat from pigs, and instead are recommending simple hygiene procedures like washing hands.

Some have suggested that those who died in Mexico were treated too late or with insufficient drugs, or that perhaps the strain mutated into something less virulent when it left the country.

In addition to the health concerns, there have also been worries that the outbreak will badly hurt the airline and travel industries, which have already been suffering because of the global economic slowdown.

Major European tour agencies and US cruise lines announced they were suspending trips to Mexico, while Argentina said it was barring flights from the country until next week.

WHO assistant director general Keiji Fukuda said it was "critical" to identify travellers from Mexico who might be infected with swine flu.

"It helps us to monitor the spread of the virus worldwide and how it is moving," Fukuda said.

US President Barack Obama is seeking USD 1.5 billion from Congress to boost US efforts to contain the flu's spread, the White House said.

California declared a state of emergency and said they had detected a death in Los Angeles that might have resulted from the virus.

South Korean officials said the country had nine suspected cases of swine flu infection, but that four of those had turned out negative.

AFP / Expatica

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