Mexico Plans Stimulus Package to Help Country Rebound from Swine Flu

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 5, 2009; 2:01 PM

MEXICO CITY, May 5 -- Mexican officials announced Tuesday an economic stimulus package to help the country recover from the damage caused by the swine flu outbreak.

Mexican Finance Secretary Agustín Carstens said that the $1.3 billion package primarily for tourism and small business sectors was intended to "immediately rebuild confidence."

He estimated Mexico has lost at least $2 billion due to the flu outbreak. Carstens said the growth rate of the country could be decreased between 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent because of the virus.

Anxiety about swine flu battered the tourism sector. In popular resort destinations such as Cancun, hotels saw widespread cancellations, especially after travel warnings to Mexico were put in place. The government's sweeping measures closing down schools, businesses and public gatherings also inflicted economic damage.

The government plans lower taxes for airlines and cruise ships in coming months, as well as measures to help small and medium-sized businesses.

As the rate of swine flu testing cranks up and the number of new suspected cases continues to drop off, Mexican health authorities today outlined a more detailed description of the extent of the new virus.

Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said that swine flu has killed a possible 140 people, of whom 26 had laboratory-confirmed cases. Of the remaining deaths, 77 will not be able to be tested to find out for sure, Cordova said, and will remain as possible cases in the future. Eighteen of the people who have died were between the ages of 20 and 40, and slightly more than half were women.

Mexican officials said their sweeping measures of shutting down schools, businesses and public gatherings have helped halt the spread of the virus.

The total number of confirmed swine flu cases is now 866, and 32 percent of those tested were found to be positive, health officials said. But the number of new cases, after peaking around April 27, has dropped off precipitously. The last reported death from swine flu was April 29, Cordova said.

Mexico's swine flu cases are distributed across 25 states, and 57 percent of them, or 496 cases, are in Mexico City. The next-highest accumulation is in the surrounding state of Mexico, with 89 confirmed cases, followed by San Luis Potosi (58), Hidalgo (54) and Zacatecas (33).

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