Normal life suspended in flu-hit Mexico

30th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Mexico City's municipal authorities said all food, party, cultural and sports establishments where groups of people normally congregate had to close under threat of fines.

Mexico City -- Officials in Mexico ordered bars, cafes, gyms, cinemas, Aztec ruins and football games closed to the public on Tuesday as they battled the spread of a new killer strain of flu virus.

The measures, concentrated in Mexico City but also felt in many venues across the country where people might gather, came as tourist numbers dwindled out of increased worldwide jitters of the disease.

Nearly empty planes flew into the capital, which itself was unnervingly quiet, with most shops shuttered. Many people wore medical masks to cover their mouths and noses.

Traffic -- usually a nightmare in this city of 20 million inhabitants -- was unusually fluid. Schools are closed by federal government order until May 6 at least.

Mexico City's municipal authorities said all food, party, cultural and sports establishments where groups of people normally congregated had to close under threat of fines and being shuttered. Eateries would only be permitted to serve takeaway meals.

"We're in the critical moment, in that we have to manage as a city so it does not become an exponential infection," mayor Marcelo Ebrard told journalists.

Restaurant owners complained the measure against food venues in the central part of Mexico City would affect 45,000 hospitality workers and take a chunk out of an already fragile economy.

"It's easy to tell us to close, but how are we going to live? They say it's for my health but either I'll die from the disease or I'll die from hunger," a cafe owner in the capital, Rene Perez Lozano, told AFP.

All archaeological sites in the country, including Mexico's world-famous Aztec and Mayan pyramids, were also closed "until further notice," the National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement soon afterwards.

The restrictions came after Mexico recorded 20 confirmed deaths and another 132 deaths likely from the A/H1N1 swine flu virus. More than 1,600 people with suspected swine flu infections were being treated.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova was expected to update those figures in a news conference later Tuesday.

So far, no other deaths from the flu have been reported in other countries, but the number of confirmed or suspected cases has been on the rise around the planet, mostly among people who had visited Mexico or the United States.

The United States was the next most affected country, with 65 confirmed cases.

Tour companies in Britain, France and Germany have cancelled trips to Mexico, as have major US cruise lines and a Canadian airline, Air Transat.

Cuba said it was suspending all flights to and from Mexico until Friday.

The declining number of foreign visitors was certain to hurt the country's tourist industry, which was the nation's second-biggest, after its oil activities.

In an AeroMexico flight that landed in Mexico City on Tuesday, only around one-third of the seats were occupied -- and most of them by Mexicans returning home.

Several passengers and most of the crew wore masks, though almost none of them the N95 type that filters out the small airborne particles believed to carry the flu virus.

"I'm a little afraid, but I've got a corporate video shoot all organized and I can't miss it," a Brazilian video director, Messina Neto, told AFP on the flight.

One of the stewards, when asked about his mask, said he had bought it himself at a pharmacy out of concern of contagion.

"It's better than nothing," he said.

Marc Burleigh/AFP/Expatica

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