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Mexico begins 5-day shutdown to curb virus

May 1, 2009 7:05:25 PM PDT
Mexico raised its confirmed swine flu death toll from 15 to 16 on Friday, adding that the total number of confirmed cases of the virus had risen to 397. National Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova announced the new numbers late Friday but insisted measures taken by the government to prevent large public gatherings are having an impact in controlling the outbreak.

"The mortality rate isn't as great as could be expected," Cordova said. He said the latest fatality was a woman but released no other details on the case.

Mexico City's streets, normally filled on Labor Day with throngs of celebrating workers, were eerily quiet as Mexicans began a forced five-day holiday to curb the spread of swine flu. It included near-total closures of government and private activity. Only essential services such as hospitals and supermarkets were open.

May Day is normally a raucous day in Mexico City as the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard fills with hundreds of thousands of boisterous marchers headed to the central Zocalo square. On Friday, a few tourists wandered down its broad sidewalks, lined with shuttered shops, banks and office towers.

"I'm going crazy in my house with this confinement," said retiree Rocio Lara. "There is nowhere to go, nowhere to spend your time."

Those seeking a quick escape from the capital of 20 million were warned not to come to Acapulco - and in a few cases residents threw stones at cars with Mexico City license plates. Acapulco officials made sure would-be visitors knew that bars, restaurants and tour boats are closed.

"Someone who has flu symptoms shouldn't think they can come to Acapulco for the weather and get better - that some fresh air and tequila and discos are going to make them forget about everything," Mayor Manuel Anorve said.

No new deaths from swine flu were reported Thursday night in the capital - the first time that's happened since an emergency was declared a week ago, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said.

"This isn't to say we are lowering our guard or we think we no longer have problems," Ebrard said. "But we're moving in the right direction."

Cordova echoed his optimism, saying Mexicans with flu symptoms are seeking medical attention quickly, and those suspected of swine flu are getting treated even before anything is confirmed. "If the treatment is given the first day, the patient is practically not contagious," Cordova said.

About 80 people protested outside Los Pinos, the presidential residence, to demand the government hand out antiviral drugs to children and the elderly. Currently, only doctors can prescribe flu-treating drugs.

Inmates rioted at a Mexico City prison after officials banned family visits in an attempt to prevent swine flu from spreading into the lockup. Anti-riot police quickly quelled the disturbance, and seven inmates were injured, said the city's interior secretary, Jose Angel Avila.

"I'll state clearly: This is a population we have to take care of," Ebrard said. "I cannot permit, if I'm restricting the schools, some 50,000 people to enter the jails because there'd soon be an outbreak there."

Continental Airlines, the biggest U.S. carrier to Mexico, cut in half the number of seats on flights to Mexico. Delta and United too, were cutting Mexico-bound flights. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised U.S. residents against nonessential travel to Mexico, and many flights have been nearly empty.

Meanwhile, Mexico appeared to back away from suggestions the World Health Organization was slow to respond to the outbreak.

Mexico's chief epidemiologist, Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana, said Thursday his center alerted the Pan American Health Organization on April 16 about alarming occurrences of flu and atypical pneumonia in Mexico, but that it took eight days for WHO to announce the outbreak and declare that it was "very, very concerned" it could grow into a pandemic. Lezana said he wanted an investigation to find out what happened and prevent future delays.

WHO responded it acted immediately on the Mexican report.

On Friday, Lezana stated that WHO worked "effectively" on the outbreak.

"There was no delay by the Mexican authorities, nor was there any by the World Health Organization," Lezana told Radio Formula.

The head of WHO's regional operation, Mirta Roses, also played down any tensions.

"Any delays in the system have been minimal in terms of the response," she said.

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Associated Press writer Natalia Parra in Acapulco and Nestor Ikeda in Washington contributed to this report.

RELATED INFORMATION:

FAQs about swine flu
Additional swine flu resources
Transcript of 6abc.com's swine flu chat with local experts

RELATED LINKS:

CDC Swine Flu site
World Health Organization

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Swine flu cases around the world

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