Heat, Closures, Flu Spur Some to Flee Mexico City

By Joshua Partlow and William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 1, 2009

MEXICO CITY, April 30 -- Mexican authorities on Thursday raised the number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the country to 312 and confirmed deaths to 12, while many more people are suspected of having contracted the disease and died.

Health Minister José Ángel Córdova said that the figures represent an increase in the pace of testing suspected cases and that the number of new cases is stabilizing.

"These are encouraging signs," Córdova said. "The fact that we have a stabilization in the daily numbers, or even a drop, makes us optimistic."

Córdova said of the 12 patients who died from the confirmed swine flu were eight women and four men. Eleven of them were from Mexico City or the surrounding state.

The outbreak has shuttered schools and many businesses, and further closures were planned for a five-day weekend that begins with a holiday Friday. But public transportation has not been suspended, despite warnings this week from Mexico City's mayor, and officials said Thursday that ground and air transportation will operate normally, with greater attention to sanitation in airports and bus stations.

"We are not restricting individual transportation of people. It's not efficient to do that. The most efficient thing to do is to recommend, with complete clarity, that the best place you can be is in your home," Transportation Secretary Juan Molinar said.

Medical workers have been deployed to airports and bus stations, Molinar said, and authorities are installing thermal cameras in major airports in an effort to detect people with symptoms such as fever.

Argentina and Cuba have blocked flights from Mexico, but only about 25 to 30 flights of an average 1,500 daily flights have been canceled, said Gilberto López Meyer, director general of airports and auxiliary services.

"This is an extraordinarily small percentage," he said.

Some people in Mexico City had had enough of the restrictions and were taking off for other parts of the country.

"I am going to see my family, and sure, people are afraid of the influenza. I am not afraid, not much," said Rosario Cruz Santiago, 29, who was at the main bus terminal in southern Mexico City. "But I want to leave the city. Why? Because of the stress."

Cruz, a secretary for a law firm that closed its offices Monday, said she and her young son had been home together all week. She had bought two tickets to the city of Taxco and seemed relieved.

Passengers at the bus station were required to fill out forms that asked whether they were suffering from a list of flulike symptoms. If they checked "yes," they were asked, but not forced, to travel later.

Alejandro Arenas, a ticket seller for one bus line, said, "The people that are traveling are going to places close, like the beaches, in Acapulco or Veracruz."

Government officials expressed concern that crowds usually in Mexico City would become crowds on the coast.

Rosalia Rivas Lira, 64, cut short her Mexico City visit after a wedding that she was to attend was canceled because of flu fears. She was waiting at the Tapo bus station in eastern Mexico City to return home to Xalapa.

"I am worried about my family," she said.

Special correspondent Anne-Marie O'Connor contributed to this report from Mexico City.

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