Special Report: World Tackles A/H1N1 Flu ¡¡
by Xinhua writer Li Mi
BEIJING, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Mexican health officials on Thursday expressed
optimism that Influenza A/H1N1 (swine flu) has slowed in the country hit hardest
by the never-seen-before H1N1 flu virus.
Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said one encouraging sign was that the
daily number of people admitted to government hospitals with flu-like symptoms
had fallen from a high of 212 on April 20 to 46 on Thursday.
The healthy ministry, which earlier said 168 people were believed killed by
the virus in Mexico, on Thursday would only confirm 12 of those deaths and would
not say how many were suspected. Cordova said "suspected numbers" were no longer
being released because they caused confusion and might not be accurate.
The World Health Organization on Wednesday said the new flu threatened to
become a pandemic and for the first time raised its threat level to Phase 5, the
second-highest. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's top flu official, said Thursday
there were no immediate signs that warranted declaring a Phase 6 pandemic.
Phase 5 means a virus has spread into at least two countries and is causing
large outbreaks. Phase 6 means outbreaks have been detected in two or more
regions of the world and a pandemic is under way.
The WHO announced it will stop using the term "swine flu" in favor of the
virus's scientific name, Influenza A/H1N11, in hopes of avoiding confusion.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a 23-month-old boy from Mexico died in
Texas earlier this week while another 131 people have been diagnosed with the
disease. Confirmed cases of Influenza A/H1N1 include 34 in Canada; 13 in Spain;
eight in Britain; three each in Germany and New Zealand; two in Israel; one each
in Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.
Mexico imposed a five-day shutdown of the country since Friday in an effort
to slow the spread of the virus. The country also has suspended all nonessential
business until May 5. Public events have been canceled and all schools are
closed. Citizens have been advised to stay at home.
The U.S. Education Department said Thursday that 298 schools in 11 states
have been closed amid concerns about the virus.
Meanwhile, governments worldwide have tightened travel restrictions for
Mexico and have imposed a number of measures in an effort to keep the virus from
spreading. Passengers arriving from Mexico are questioned and get health checks
at airports around the globe.
In Latin America, Ecuador, Cuba and Argentina have banned travel to or from
Mexico while Peru banned flights from the apparent epicenter of the outbreak.
In Singapore, anyone arriving from Mexico faces a week-long quarantine, a
public health measure that had not been used since the 2003 SARS epidemic
The U.S., the European Union, and other countries have warned against
nonessential travel to Mexico. Cruise lines avoid Mexican ports.
On Thursday, however, EU ministers rejected as excessive a French proposal
for an EU-wide ban on travel to Mexico.
"We have to be careful. We have to exercise vigilance. We should not panic.
We have to be prepared," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told an
emergency meeting of health ministers in Luxembourg.
Vassiliou said that an international flu pandemic was likely although it
would not necessarily cause widespread deaths.
The White House on Thursday apologized for comments by Vice President Joe
Biden that he would discourage family members from flying or even taking the
subway because of the flu threat.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed a clarification issued by Biden's
office, that the vice president had meant to stress a specific warning against
nonessential travel to Mexico.
"I'm apologizing to those who were unduly alarmed," Gibbs told reporters.
In other developments, Cordova said that Mexican authorities have so far
approved or spent 1.6 billion pesos (about 116 million U.S. dollars) for medical
supplies and equipment to deal with the crisis.
At the same time, assistance for the flu-stricken country is pouring in
from around the world.
The Japanese government said Friday that it will send one million dollars'
worth of masks and other medical supplies to Mexico to help the nation cope with
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday said
the U.S. will send 400,000 antiviral treatments to Mexico. The U.S. already has
set up a lab in Mexico to help diagnose and test suspected Influenza A/H1N1
Also on Thursday, a chartered plane carrying the first batch of supplies
donated by China to help Mexico fight the virus left Beijing. The supplies were
part of a five-million-dollar emergency aid package, comprised of one million in
cash and four million in relief supplies.
The Inter-American Development Bank announced Thursday it would approve
three billion dollars in loans for Mexico to fight the flu outbreak and the
global economic crisis.