Mexico Plans to Lift Swine Flu Shutdown

The shutdown on schools and businesses appears set to end as some fears persist.

ByABC News
May 4, 2009, 3:56 AM

May 4, 2009 — -- Mexican officials announced today they would allow most nonessential businesses to reopen Wednesday, after it ordered them closed Friday after the deadly outbreak of the swine flu virus.

On Sunday, Mexico's health ministry said that the worst of the outbreak had passed, partially because of the shutdowns , and that the virus might turn out to be no worse than a typical seasonal flu outbreak.

"The virus has entered into a stabilization phase. The cases are starting to decrease," President Felipe Calderon said, predicting that Mexico would soon begin to get back on its feet.

Meanwhile in the United States, St. Francis Preparatory School in New York City -- considered last week as the epicenter of the country's swine flu infections, has been scrubbed down and will reopen today for the first time since the virus was identified.

As students return to the school, many packing bottles of hand sanitzers in their backpacks, medical experts are concluding that the swine flu infection may not be any more dangerous than a normal outbreak of flu.

But the country's medical authorities aren't ready to ease restrictions, and more than 333,000 students are out of class today as schools across the country are taking no chances and have shut down.

In fact, two more New York schools closed their doors starting today, including one in Syracuse and another on Long Island.

In addition, hospital emergency rooms continue to fill up with patients who have "swine flu jitters," hand sanitizers are disappearing from drug store shelves and airlines are taking unusual precautions. British Airways is handing out masks to Mexico-bound passengers. Lufthansa is putting a doctor on flights to Mexico. And Alaska Airways is eliminating pillows, hoping that will help halt the spread of germs.

The jitters persist despite efforts to tamp down fears about the potency of the H1N1 virus that has been dubbed swine flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has analyzed the genetics of the virus and noted that there have been relatively few "severe" cases of illness.

"We are seeing encouraging signs that the virus so far is not looking more severe than a strain we would see during seasonal flu," concluded CDC Acting Director Dr. Richard Besser.

Nevertheless, the CDC officially confirmed 279 cases in 36 states Monday.

And there is one worrisome pattern. While most flus strike the very young and the elderly, this virus has taken its toll on older children and younger adults. Of the 30 people hospitalized in the U.S. with swine flu, many fit this category. And nine of the 19 deaths in Mexico attributed to swine flu were people between the ages of 21 and 39.

In Mexico, where the virus outbreak has been most virulent, the country will decide today whether to reopen schools and businesses shut down last week in an effort to contain the spread of swine flu.

In an interview with state television broadcast Sunday night, Mexico President Felipe Calderon defended the nationwide shutdown, saying, "We have succeeded in detaining or at least slowing the spread of the virus precisely because the measures have been the correct ones."

Mexico's Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said at a news conference that the lockdown would "not happen just like that," adding, "There will have to be training, preparations for teachers and parents."

As Mexican authorities ponder when and how to reopen businesses and schools, the virus spread to Colombia in the first confirmed case in South America, a fact which has worried health officials since the flu season is about to begin in the continent.

Mexico also found itself embroiled in a row with the Chinese government over its decision to quarantine more than 70 Mexican travelers in the country. Mexico's ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, told reporters that even the Mexican consul in Guangzhou was held briefly after returning from a trip to Cambodia.

Calderon described such measures as "unfair," adding, "because we have been honest and transparent with the world some countries and places are taking repressive and discriminatory measures because of ignorance and disinformation."

He did not mention China by name but Mexico's Foreign Relations Department released a statement later, saying that Mexico would send a jet to several Chinese cities "where Mexicans have expressed their intention to return to Mexico."

China's Foreign Ministry denied it was discriminating against Mexicans.