Flu Forces Mexicans To Stay Home, Shut Businesses Mexican President Felipe Calderon has told nonessential Mexican workers to stay home for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy. The move is an effort to stem the spread of the swine flu that has killed up to 176 people and sickened thousands.
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Flu Forces Mexicans To Stay Home, Shut Businesses

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Flu Forces Mexicans To Stay Home, Shut Businesses

Flu Forces Mexicans To Stay Home, Shut Businesses

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Mexico is ordering all nonessential government offices to shut down tomorrow and stay closed until May 6th. Mexicans were heading into a long weekend, anyway. The shutdown is an effort to stem the spread of swine flu that has killed up to 176 people and sickened thousands.

NPR's Jason Beaubien looks at how, in an economy with many people living day-to-day, the swine flu crisis is making life increasingly difficult for many residents.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Today is supposed to be the Dia del Nino in Mexico, sort of a children's version of Mother's or Father's Day. Parents get the kids sweets and usually, they have special activities and cake at school. But all the schools in Mexico are closed because of the swine flu outbreak.

In Mexico City, just about every other place that might interest a child - museums, parks, playgrounds, movie theaters - is also shut down. On a traffic triangle abutting Avenue de Revolucion, there's a small collection of kiddie rides, but it's been ordered closed as well.

Ms. ALEJANDRO ARIAS VICTORIANO(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Alejandro Arias Victoriano, who works at the mini-carnival, says her family has been affected a lot by the influenza outbreak. The kids aren't studying, they're missing a lot of school, and the kids can't enjoy the Dia del Nino because all the businesses are closed.

Arias lives with her husband and seven children in a small shipping container parked on the street next to the bumper-car ride. One of her daughters came down with a bad cold last week that Arias believes is swine flu, although that hasn't been confirmed. The daughter is feeling better now, but Arias worries about her other children.

Ms. VICTORIANO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The fear is that there are seven of them, she says, and another one of them might catch it. Her 4-year-old, Miguel(ph), chimes in cheerfully that if his sister doesn't take her medicine, she's going to die.

All the kids have been out of school for a week, and they're incredibly bored.

Ms. VICTORIANO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: They want to go to the park, but they're all closed, she says. They want to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, but it's shut. Arias says the kids are used to having a routine and things to do.

Ms. VICTORIANO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The kids are getting desperate, she says, just like us. She'd wanted to get a cake for the holiday, but with the rides idle, she's not working and she didn't feel she could afford it. Anyway, most of the local bakeries are closed.

And it's not just the kids who have been affected. In Mexico City, all bars, restaurants, stadiums, and any other place where people might gather have been shut down. Tens of thousands of businesses are shuttered. People are out of work, and vendors say sales have plummeted.

Last night, the minister of health, Jose Angel Cordova, announced that all nonessential government offices will be closed, starting tomorrow, until May 6th, and he asked businesses to also shut for this period. But he said essential services won't be affected.

Minister Jose Angel Cordova (Minister of Health, Mexico): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We will guarantee the production of food and medicine, he said, and make sure essential goods and services are available to the public. Cordova said the shutdown does not apply to supermarkets, pharmacies and other basic services.

The order doesn't matter to Fernando Perez Gomez(ph), who runs a print shop near the National University in the south of the capital, because he says there's no business anyway.

Mr. FERNANDO PEREZ GOMEZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Since last Thursday, there hasn't been any work, he says. Today - practically zero. There isn't anything. Right now, we're just finishing some jobs from last week, but there isn't any economic activity.

It's the same in business after business on his block, and he says he doesn't know how long he can stay in business if the swine-flu crisis drags on. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A Time magazine photographer takes us inside the Obama White House. That's next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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