Mexico Says Flu Ebbing, Lowers Alert Level

MSNBC, May 4, 2009

Mexican officials lowered their flu alert level in the capital on Monday and said they will allow cafes, museums and libraries to reopen this week. World health officials said there were no plans to raise the pandemic alert to the highest level.

Mexican officials declared the epidemic to be waning, announcing that Wednesday will conclude a five-day closure of nonessential businesses that was called to stop the spread of the new virus. Health officials need to finish inspecting schools before students can return to class.

Meantime, global health experts said it was too early for countries to lower their guard, but there was still no evidence of community-level spread of the new flu H1N1 virus outside North America.

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Mexico decries discrimination

While Mexico began its first steps toward normalcy, the virus spread to Colombia in the first confirmed case in South America, where flu season is about to begin. More cases were confirmed in North America and Europe–including Portugal’s first–with the total number sickened worldwide rising to more than 1,000 people in 20 countries, according to health and government officials.

With the scope of the disease unknown, several countries have taken urgent measures against arriving Mexicans or those who have recently traveled to Mexico.

In China, 71 Mexicans have been quarantined in hospitals and hotels, Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza said. Arriving Mexicans were taken into isolation, said Mexico’s ambassador, Jorge Guajardo. Even the Mexican consul in Guangzhou was briefly held after returning from a vacation in Cambodia.

And in Hong Kong, 350 people remained isolated Monday in a hotel after a Mexican traveler there was determined to have swine flu.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon complained of the backlash against Mexicans abroad, and his government said a chartered plane left Monday morning for China and will make stops in several cities to pick up any Mexican citizen wanting to return home.

“I think it’s unfair that 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,” Calderon said.

“There are always people who are seizing on this pretext to assault Mexicans, even just verbally,” he said, though he did not point to any country.

Espinoza planned to talk to Chinese officials about their policy toward Mexicans.

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

But the Mexican Embassy in Beijing sent a circular out to all its citizens saying China had imposed “measures of unjustified isolation” in response to swine flu and urging trips there to be canceled or postponed.

Espinoza also criticized Argentina, Peru and Cuba for banning flights to Mexico, and said Argentina was sending a plane to Mexico on Monday to pick up Argentines who want to leave Mexico.

Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said at a news conference Monday that Mexico had 727 cases of swine flu and 26 deaths from the virus.

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