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April 27, 2009
Countries prepare for the worst as swine flu spreads

An outbreak of human swine flu has killed a suspected 149 people in Mexico and infected people in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. 

The World Health Organization has said the deadly flu has “pandemic potential.” Governments the world over are racing to find and contain pockets of swine flu. The European Union is advising against unnecessary travel to the U.S. and Mexico.

Dr. Andrew Garrett, the director of planning and response at Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and the Mailman School of Public Health, joins Martin Savidge to discuss the threat posed by swine flu, how the disease spread from Mexico and how long it might be before it is brought under control.


Daniel Hernandez, a writer based in Mexico City, describes the atmosphere in the city, noting that many are wary of the government: 

The metro is still operating but with hardly its normal level of weekend traffic. Public gathering spaces are closed or nearly empty — that includes art openings (most of them), museums, movie theaters, and soccer matches. Unbelievably, schools will be closed until “at least” May 6, the health secretary has announced, raising the fear factor considerably.

That’s at least 10 total weekdays of no classes for more than 6 million students at all levels. To put things in perspective, the last time classes were shuttered for days on end was during the apocalyptic Mexico City earthquake of 1985.

[…]On Saturday, while the top brass at the WHO convened an emergency meeting in Geneva, soldiers in Mexico City were passing out face-masks at traffic stops, metro stations, and plazas. A militar in fatigues handed me a mask upon entering metro Bellas Artes, but it fell apart before I could even get on a train. On board, passengers eyed one another suspiciously and made every effort to avoid contact with strangers.

Now, this is the sort of atmosphere some of us have most feared, health worries aside: An already heavy-handed federal government in Mexico issued an ominous decree on Saturday, saying it reserves the right to hold and quarantine anyone, enter and search any public or private establishment, and more or less do whatever it deems necessary to stop the virus from spreading.

Which makes you wonder if this is really Mexico’s “worst nightmare.”

Deborah Bonello in Mexico points out that there are economic costs to the outbreak: 

I was out shooting all day in downtown Mexico City Sunday, trying to get a sense of how the swine flu outbreak is affecting local businesses.

It’s bad. With schools closed, as well as cinemas, theaters and museums, sales for some vendors have dropped by as much as 70%. And it doesn’t look like things are going to get better anytime soon. The usual Monday morning traffic crawl was nowhere to be seen this morning, and I arrived at my office door to door in less than 20 minutes.

About half the people walking around on the streets are using masks, around half are risking it.

Blogger “mattliving” in Canada — where there are at least six confirmed cases of swine flu — criticizes the government response to the outbreak: 

Why are governments around the world waiting for this to get out of hand?

I personally know of persons in my workplace here in Canada that have recently returned from Mexico. Why haven’t governments contacted everyone who may have traveled in or out of Mexico in the last few weeks and get them tested.

Isn’t this scenario one of the biggest excuses from governments for tracking of travellers, RFID passports, etc.?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eneas under a Creative Commons license.

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