Swine Flu Shuts Down Mexico City

Mexico has been hit the hardest by swine flu. More than 100 people have died there of suspected cases, and hundreds more have been sickened by the virus.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now to Mexico where in addition to those confirmed deaths, hundreds more have been sickened by the flu virus.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is covering the story. He joins us from Mexico City. Good morning.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now Mexico's president is calling for calm. And how are people responding? Are they being calm?

BEAUBIEN: Well, people are being calm. People simply aren't going out the streets here in Mexico City. Yesterday it was really remarkable. The streets were absolutely empty. In a city that is normally just a bustling metropolis of 20 million people with lots of traffic, the streets were just wide open. There were cars out, there were people out and about, but people are heeding the calls to stay inside their homes. And that was really a sort of sign of the level of fear of this outbreak that's here.

MONTAGNE: And, you know, are the people taking any comfort from President Calderon's announcement that most of the people who've gotten the swine flu come down with it have fully recovered?

BEAUBIEN: No, people really aren't. Even though the president was pointing out that just as in the United States when there've been cases people appeared to have completely recovered and are fine, it was just like a bad flu. People here are still extremely worried, because it's unclear where this outbreak is going. And people feel like it might be anywhere around them. People here are still really terrified that this is something that could kill them.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, the people who have died, many of them are young, rather than babies or the old. Are there any more details that are known about those people who have died?

BEAUBIEN: There really aren't many details. The government isn't giving a lot of details except for the fact that these are young adults in the 24 to 45 range, these are people who don't have necessarily compromised immune systems. It appears that it is striking sort of right at the heart of the population, and so that is also part of what's causing concern amongst public health officials. And the government hasn't released any, sort of, overarching theme, saying, look, this is what - who it's really striking.

And so that's something that we're waiting for, and maybe that's not going to come. But at this point, we don't know a whole lot about the people who have died.

MONTAGNE: So it sounds like there's no sense that this crisis has peaked.

BEAUBIEN: No, not at all. There is a sense that at first this was centered in Mexico City, this is where the cases were. But at this point, we're now getting new cases being reported in Veracruz. Queretaro just shut down all of its schools. That's another state north of here. There's really this sense that this is getting bigger and bigger as opposed to being contained.

MONTAGNE: Now, obviously Monday morning, it's the first day of the work week. People weren't even going to church yesterday. I mean, masses were cancelled so that people wouldn't come out. What about today? Is there any expectation that it will go back to any sort of normalcy?

BEAUBIEN: Mexico City got 20 million people in it. They've got students, six to seven million people in Mexico City and the surrounding areas who are now ordered to stay out of school at least until May 6. Those students are not able to go to playgrounds. The playgrounds are shut. They can't go to museums.

You've got people inside Calderon's administration, saying when the work week starts we're going right back to work. The economy is not going to be affected by this. Yet, at the same time, there's nowhere for their children to go. Even daycare centers have been shut down.

So this is really a problem that parents are facing and it's going to be interesting to see how the work flow goes with so many people trying to deal with daycare issues.

MONTAGNE: Jason, thanks very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Jason Beaubien speaking to us from Mexico City.

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