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Mexico & Central America / Natural Disasters

Mexico Businesses Slowly Reopen as Swine Flu Ebbs

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Mexico City reading newspaperGovernment offices, restaurants and cafés in Mexico City are officially reopening their doors today, marking the first phase of a progressive revival of a city that has been virtually shut down for more than a week due to an outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus (popularly known as swine flu).

Some establishments even opened a little earlier than expected, on Tuesday, as health officials said that the epidemic seemed to be waning.

A total of 42 deaths and 1,112 cases of infection have been confirmed since the flu outbreak began more than two weeks ago, though new cases are developing at a much slower pace than before.

The shutdown may have prevented further spread of the virus, but unfortunately led to the cancellation of the city’s hugely popular Cinco de Mayo celebration, and has taken a massive economic toll on the city. Some analysts estimate that lost tourism revenues alone amount to almost $1 billion.

The second phase of the reopening begins tomorrow, when libraries, museums, churches, high schools, and universities will be back in business. Schools attended by younger children will stay closed until May 11 to allow additional time for the epidemic to dissipate.

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Despite the return to normality, Mexican health officials warn that people should still be on their guard against infection. They fear that as people begin to congregate in public again the bug may reemerge.

To be on the safe side, many public venues such as cinemas, theaters, bull rings, gyms, and bars will remain closed for the next several days, and Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled a championship tournament this weekend.

Empty Mexico City MetroRestaurants are being asked to space their tables at least 2 meters (about 6 feet) apart, and food workers are required to wear face masks. Schools and metro trains are being thoroughly scrubbed, and hand-sanitizing gel is being offered at some stations.

As the outbreak wanes in Mexico, the virus is still spreading in the U.S., where a second person has died and 642 infections have been reported in 36 states. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control said they expect it to eventually reach all 50 states.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is debating whether or not to raise their pandemic alert level to six, the highest possible level, considering that the bug has now been reported in 23 countries.

WHO officials say that the term “pandemic” is not necessarily an indicator of the severity of a disease, only its geographical reach. In fact, medical experts say that the great majority of cases of swine flu are mild, and only cause complications or death in those with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems.

Indeed, the 33-year-old Texas woman who died this week was said to be suffering from one or more “chronic underlying health conditions.”

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: NY-1, Fox Tampa Bay, Associated Press, New York Times, CNN

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