How Mexico is tackling the swine flu
Schools and nightclubs are closed. Health officials have new powers to quarantine homes.
At the epicenter of a swine flu health crisis that has the world on alert, Mexico is working hard to maintain public calm.Skip to next paragraph
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Streets in Mexico City that are normally choked with traffic were free-flowing over the weekend. Bars and churches were shut, and parks were empty. This city of 20 million residents – and their elected officials – is taking seriously precautions against contracting the new strain of the virus.
First detected April 13 in Mexico, swine flu may be responsible for as many as 81 deaths here, as well some 20 milder cases – but no deaths – in California, New York, Texas, Ohio, and Kansas. There are also suspected cases in Canada, Europe, and New Zealand.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who has employed the Army in a war with ruthless drug traffickers, has now given special powers to health officials. He's granted health authorities the right to enter homes and forcibly quarantine those diagnosed with the illness.
Schools have been shuttered and public events canceled. Mexicans have been urged to limit human contact, including the customary greeting kiss on the cheek.
Some Mexicans say the government isn't telling people the full scope of the outbreak. But others interviewed, who after decades of one-party rule are cynical about government transparency, say that the government has been open and doing all that it can to stem the problem.
"I think the government is doing a much better job today; I think the entire city must know about the threats and what to do if you get infected," says Rodolfo Millan, a cab driver in Mexico City, as he accepts a pile of blue surgical masks being handed out by Mexican soldiers. He says he's taking them home for his family.
Calderón urges calm
President Calderón has tried to assuage public panic, calling the virus "curable" and promising that the nation has enough medical supplies to address it. "Although this is a grave, serious problem, we're going to beat it," Calderón said.
The US has declared a public health emergency because of the cases that have migrated across the border.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the outbreak "a public health event of international concern" but did not raise the threat level to a pandemic. They urged nations around the world to increase their monitoring and reporting of flu-like symptoms. "It has pandemic potential because it is infecting people," Margaret Chan, the director general of WHO, said from Geneva over the weekend.