As instances of new swine flu (or H1N1 influenza) cases have dropped over the last few days, Mexico City has started taking baby steps toward normality by planning a gradual end to the shutdown which has been in effect since April 28.
Government officials have decided that it is safe to allow restaurants and cafes to reopen on Wednesday, and libraries, museums and churches will follow suit on Thursday.
There is still no word on when schools, businesses, cinemas and theaters will reopen.
Mexican health authorities have revised the number of confirmed cases downward from early estimates, when as many as 1600 people were suspected of having the bug and 160 were thought to have died from it. Now they are saying that 701 people have been infected and 26 have died.
Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said that the outbreak peaked between April 23 and 28 and is now on a decline. But Cordova warned citizens that they will need to continue to be vigilant while the country emerges from its near-total shutdown this week.
In the U.S. the number of confirmed cases has risen to 286 people in 36 states, and is expected to eventually show up in all 50 states. However, the CDC said that it is “encouraging” to know that the severity of the disease appears to be mild, and they don’t predict that it will develop into a pandemic in which thousands die.
WHO officials say that the U.S. is the only nation besides Mexico where the flu bug has spread into local communities. Apparently other countries where the virus has appeared are not at risk for an outbreak because the infected individuals were quickly identified and isolated.
If you’re a contrarian tourist, now is the time to go to Mexico City. Though almost all the major U.S. carriers have temporarily reduced their schedules to Mexico, you can still get a flight, and you’ll be able to go cheaply.
And as a bonus, you’ll have lots of elbow room once you get there. Health authorities are recommending that restaurants space tables further apart than normal, and are suggesting that moviegoers leave empty seats between themselves and the next patron.
Merchants will no doubt roll out the welcome mat, especially considering that the dearth of tourists has cost Mexico’s economy an estimated $100 million a day and has put 450,000 jobs in jeopardy.
In a tourism-dependent economy already battered by the global recession and reports of border violence, the travel industry, at least, is in full crisis mode.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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