Mexico City residents adapt to swine flu restrictions

Local businesses have been hit hard in the past few days and, with schools closed until May 6, families are scrambling to care for their children.

By , Staff Writer

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    A worker pushes a cart past shuttered stalls at the La Merced market in Mexico City on Tuesday. The swine flu outbreak is already hurting the Mexican economy.
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MEXICO CITY - Nowhere in Mexico has the ebb and flow of daily life been more restricted than in the capital. Officials banned over 500 public events. They let soccer matches carry on – but without spectators.

On Tuesday, the government took another dramatic step forward: all gyms, pools, movie theaters, billiards halls, and convention centers were closed across Mexico City. The 35,000 restaurants were all closed for dine-in service – only take-out is permitted.

The swine flu outbreak is already hurting Mexico’s economy, especially its tourism industry. Cuba has banned flights to and from Mexico and Argentina had suspended flights from Mexico. The United States and the European Union have discouraged nonessential travel there and cruise lines are avoiding Mexico ports.

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As officials weigh the consequences, locals worry about the fallout.

Local businesses hit hard

At Café Amsterdam, in a leafy neighborhood of Mexico City, owner Adrian Valdespino says that business in the last two days is down by 70 percent. All the chairs were stacked on the tables in the middle of the day as if it were closing time. He says if the situation worsens he may have to consider staff reductions.

For now, he says he will go door-to-door to the restaurant’s regular clients and offer home deliveries. “That is a way to keep the staff employed, and stay in business,” he says.

Down the street, Pamela Ortiz Garcia is worried that the coffee shop where she works will shut down temporarily, and that she’ll be temporarily out of a job. “There has been no one here all day,” says Ms. Ortiz, as she reads a book and sips on a cappuccino outside, looking far more a customer than a cafe employee. The cafe sits in front of a public library that is shuttered.

Perhaps the outbreak’s biggest impact on the working Mexican has been school closures. Schools in the capital and in some states had already been shuttered, but on Monday officials took the unprecedented step of closing all schools nationwide, until at least May 6.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard had warned that if the situation worsens, the public transportation will shut down, sparking concern city-wide. For now, he has said the move is premature, but in a local hair salon, empty on recent day, employees worried about how they’d get to work or to the grocery store.Even now, the normally-choked public transportation system seemed at half capacity, as busses passed by with plenty of available seating. The city’s taxi drivers say business is down, too. “No one is going anywhere, everything is closed,” says driver Abel Nunez. “People who take the metro typically don’t take taxis. There are simply fewer people.”

In fact, some companies have closed down their offices in Mexico City, or told their employees to work at home. Rumors of city-wide quarantines led residents to rush to supermarkets. At one local store Monday, there was neither sliced bread nor yogurt left on shelves.

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