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NOT CHILDS PLAY Alexa Zuniga wears a surgical mask at the Tijuana airport, Mexico. Swine flu has killed a toddler in Texas, the first reported death outside Mexico. Ten other US states are affected. AP


Global swine flu pandemic feared

All of humanity threatened; Mexico shuts down

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:49:00 05/01/2009

Filed Under: Swine Flu

MEXICO CITY?Mexico readied a ?temporarily closed? sign?taking the drastic step of ordering a suspension of nonessential federal government and private business activity as it tried to squelch a swine flu epidemic.

The World Health Organization ratcheted up an alert to Phase 5 and warned that ?all of humanity? is threatened.

The dire warning showed that health officials are very worried about the potential for massive numbers of deaths worldwide from the mutated virus, even though the epidemic so far has claimed only a confirmed eight lives in Mexico and one in the United States. Roughly 170 deaths are suspected of having been caused by the virus in Mexico.

Switzerland and the Netherlands on Thursday became the latest countries to report a swine flu infection.

Swiss authorities said a 19-year-old student was stricken with the virus but was mistakenly released from a hospital and then hastily readmitted.

The Dutch government confirmed the country?s first case?a 3-year-old child who recently returned from Mexico.

European Union health ministers held emergency talks in Luxembourg to coordinate national efforts to prevent the spread of swine flu in Europe.

The Phase 5 alert, indicating a pandemic could be imminent, prompted Mexico to announce the partial May 1-5 shutdown, Mexican Health Secretary Jose Cordova said late Wednesday.

93 people in 11 states

In Washington, President Barack Obama promised ?great vigilance? in confronting the outbreak that has sickened at least 93 people in 11 states and forced schools to close, affecting tens of thousands of students.

A Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family died Monday night in Houston, becoming the first fatality in the United States, and 39 Marines were confined to their base in California after one came down with the disease.

The virus, a mix of pig, bird and human genes to which people have limited natural immunity, has also spread to Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Spain, Israel, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

?It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic,? WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in Geneva. ?We do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.?

Mexicans urged to stay home

In a televised address, Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised ?the heroic work? of doctors and nurses and asked his countrymen to stay in their homes between May 1 and May 5.

?There is no safer place to protect yourself against catching swine flu, than in your house,? he said.

He brushed aside criticisms that his government?s response was slow, stressing several times that authorities had reacted ?immediately.?

School in Mexico has already been canceled until May 6 and 176 professional soccer games this weekend will be played with no fans in the stadiums. During the shutdown, essential services like transport, supermarkets, trash collection and hospitals will remain open.

Calderon said authorities would use the partial shutdown to weigh whether to extend the emergency measures or ?if it is possible to phase out some? restrictions.

The outbreak appeared to already be stabilizing in Mexico, the epicenter. Confirmed swine flu cases doubled Wednesday to 99, but new deaths finally seemed to be leveling off after an aggressive public health campaign was launched when the epidemic was declared April 23.

WHO: Pandemic imminent

Although 17 new suspected deaths were reported, only one additional confirmed death was announced Wednesday night, for a total of eight countrywide. The virus is believed to have sickened as many as 2,955 people across the country.

The WHO said the global threat is nevertheless serious enough to ramp up efforts to produce a vaccine against the virus. It declared a Phase 5 outbreak?the second-highest on its threat scale?for the first time ever, indicating a pandemic could be imminent.

Obama praises Bush

In the United States, eight states closed schools Wednesday, affecting 53,000 students in Texas alone.

Obama said his administration has made sure that needed medical supplies are on hand and praised the Bush administration for stockpiling 50 million doses of antiviral medications.

?The key now is to just make sure we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up. And individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference,? he said.

Ban on travel to Mexico

Ecuador joined Cuba and Argentina in banning travel to or from Mexico, and Peru banned flights from Mexico. The Panama Canal Authority ordered pilots and other employees who board ships passing through the waterway to use surgical masks and gloves. An average of 36 ships per day use the canal.

The United States, the European Union and other countries have discouraged nonessential travel to Mexico. Some countries have urged their citizens to avoid the United States and Canada as well.

Medical detectives have not pinpointed where the outbreak began. Scientists believe that somewhere in the world, months or even a year ago, a pig virus jumped to a human and mutated, and has been spreading between humans ever since.

China went on an offensive to quell any suggestion that it?s the source of the swine flu after some Mexican officials were quoted in media reports in the past week saying the virus came from Asia and the governor of Mexico?s Veracruz state was quoted as saying the virus specifically came from China.

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