Mexico to begin flu shutdown

President calls on non-essential business to close in effort to combat H1N1 virus outbreak.

     Workers in non-essential businesses in Mexico have been told to stay at home for five days [AFP]

    New infections 'stabilising'

    Special report
    Mexico, the country worst-hit by the outbreak, has confirmed at least 12 deaths from the H1N1 virus but says up to 159 could have been killed by the disease.

    However, Mexico's health minister said he believed the latest data indicated the number of new infections was stabilising.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday that 331 cases of infection by the virus had been found worldwide.

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    WHO said on Thursday it would stop referring to the virus as "swine flu", to avoid suggestions that the disease can be contracted by contact with pork products.

    Meat producers have been hit hard by fears that the disease could be spread by eating pork, despite medical experts saying there was no evidence that that was the case.

    The WHO said on Thursday it would maintain its virus alert at level five – the second highest phase – meaning the outbreak is on the brink of reaching pandemic levels.

    Doctors have said, however, that they still do not know how severe the outbreak will be, and health officials in several countries have warned against panic.

    Hugh Pennington, a professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, told Al Jazeera: "I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that a pandemic might be quite benign.

    "Even if it spreads round the world, it may not be any nastier than the ordinary flu we see every year," he said.

    The WHO has also pointed out that most of the previously reported flu cases had "recovered from the disease without requiring medical attention and without antiviral medicines".

    Economic fallout

    H1N1: At a glance

    Twelve confirmed in Mexico out of 159 suspected. One death in the United States

    Countries with confirmed cases: Mexico, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Costa Rica

    Countries with suspected cases: Australia, Brazil, France, Chile, Denmark, Colombia, Germany, Norway, South Korea, Guatemala

    Influenza epidemics:
    Annual influenza epidemics are thought to result in three to five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths around the world, WHO says.

    In Mexico, fears over the virus have already shut down schools, museums and theatres and emptied restaurants and bars, threatening lasting damage to an economy already hit hard by the global economic crisis.

    Tourists have cancelled holiday bookings, dealing a huge blow to an industry that usually accounts for about eight per cent of the Mexican economy.

    Al Jazeera's Marianna Sanchez, reporting from the beach resort of Cancun, said thousands of tourists have been leaving and usually packed planes landing in the city have been arriving almost empty.

    Banking giant HSBC has forecast the flu crisis could cause Mexico's economy to contract by about 0.3 per cent for every week it lasts.

    With the virus continuing to spread around the world, the Netherlands has become the latest country to report its first confirmed case.

    A three-year-old child, who recently arrived back from Mexico, is receiving treatment and recovering well, Dutch health officials said.

    In Asia officials in South Korea reported two further probable cases of H1N1 infection on Friday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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