Mexico suspends non-essential work

As the swine flu outbreak spread, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico told citizens to stay home beginning on Friday for a five-day partial shutdown of the country’s economy, Reuters reported. Non-essential work and services will be suspended, he said, after the World Health Organisation warned that a swine flu pandemic was imminent.

There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus,” Calderón said in his first televised address since the health crisis began last week. Mexico reported another 17 deaths potentially linked to swine flu, bringing the total to as many as 176. Ten countries have reported cases of the H1N1 virus strain, including the United States, where a Mexican boy died while on a family visit. His was the first confirmed swine flu death outside Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak.

“Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world,” the WHO’s director general, Margaret Chan, said on Wednesday. The alert level is now at phase 5, the last step before a pandemic.

In Mexico City, home to 20 million people, all schools, restaurants, nightclubs and public events have been shut down to try to stop the disease from spreading, bringing normal life to a virtual standstill. The country’s central bank warned the flu outbreak could deepen Mexico’s recession, damaging an economy that already has shrunk by up to 8% over the first quarter of 2008.

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