By Thomas Black
April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared an emergency in his country’s swine flu outbreak, giving him powers to order quarantines and suspend public events.
Authorities have canceled school at all levels in Mexico City and the state of Mexico until further notice, and the government has shut most public and government activities in the area. The emergency decree, published today in the state gazette, gives the president authority to take more action.
“The federal government under my charge will not hesitate a moment to take all, all the measures necessary to respond with efficiency and opportunity to this respiratory epidemic,” Calderon said today during a speech to inaugurate a hospital in the southern state of Oaxaca.
At least 20 deaths in Mexico from the disease are confirmed, Health Minister Jose Cordova said yesterday. The strain is a variant of H1N1 swine influenza that has also sickened at least eight people in California and Texas. As many as 68 deaths may be attributed to the virus in Mexico, and about 1,000 people in the Mexico City area are showing symptoms of the illness, Cordoba said.
The first case was seen in Mexico on April 13. The outbreak coincided with the President Barack Obama’s trip to Mexico City on April 16. Obama was received at Mexico’s anthropology museum in Mexico City by Felipe Solis, a distinguished archeologist who died the following day from symptoms similar to flu, Reforma newspaper reported. The newspaper didn’t confirm if Solis had swine flu or not.
The Mexican government is distributing breathing masks to curtail the disease’s spread. There is no vaccine against the new strain of swine flu, health authorities said.
Museums, theaters and other venues in the Mexico City area, where large crowds gather, have shut down voluntarily and concerts and other events canceled to help contain the disease. Two professional soccer games will be played tomorrow in different Mexico City stadiums without any fans, El Universal newspaper reported. Catholic masses will be held, the newspaper said, although church officials urged worshipers to wear breath masks and to avoid contact.
Schools will likely remain closed next week, Calderon said in the Oaxaca speech. The decree allows Calderon to regulate transportation, enter any home or building for inspection, order quarantines and assign any task to all federal, state and local authorities as well as health professionals to combat the disease.
“The health of Mexicans is a cause that we’re defending with unity and responsibility,” Calderon said. “I know that although it’s a grave problem, a serious problem, we’re going to overcome it.”
Normal Airport Operations
Mexico City’s international airport, which handles about 70,000 passengers each day, is operating normally, said Victor Mejia, a spokesman. Passengers are given a questionnaire asking if they have flu symptoms and recommending they cancel their trip and see a doctor if they do. The measures are voluntary, Mejia said, and no case of swine flu in airport passengers, workers or visitors has been confirmed.
Authorities throughout Central America have issued alerts to prevent the outbreak from spreading. Guatemala ordered tighter control yesterday of its northern border with Mexico, according to EFE. Gerberth Morales, who’s heading the Guatemala government’s response, said no cases of swine flu have been reported in his country, the Spanish news agency reported.
Brazil is intensifying vigilance in ports, airports and borders to check travelers’ health, luggage, aircrafts and ships in a preventive action against the outbreak in Mexico, the Agency for Sanitary Vigilance said on its Web site.