A shutdown of public venues in Mexico City is likely to be lifted by Wednesday, despite caution by U.N. health officials that a second wave of the swine flu virus could "strike with a vengeance."
By early Monday, the number of cases worldwide stood at 985, with 26 deaths. Twenty-five deaths were reported in Mexico — the epicenter of the outbreak with 590 cases. The United States has reported 226 cases in 30 states, including one death — a Mexican toddler who was visiting relatives in the United States. In addition to the fatalities, the spread of the virus — scientifically known as Influenza A (H1N1) — has strained relations between some countries and re-ignited religious and ethnic tensions in others. Mexican officials bitterly criticized China for putting about 70 Mexican citizens in isolation. They said the nationals were being singled out because of their passports — despite showing no signs of the virus. Watch how China hunts for the infected » Some had traveled to China aboard the same flight that carried an infected Mexican man — the country’s first confirmed case. “No other country in the world is implementing these kinds of actions,” Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China, told reporters. “We would like to know an official version of what exactly Mexicans can expect in China.” In Hong Kong, about 200 hotel guests and 100 staff members at the Metropark Hotel remain under quarantine until Friday after health officials determined that a guest there had contracted the H1N1 virus. Watch how a British citizen has been quarantined in Hong Kong » “We go down to the lobby for food and then back to the room to eat your food,” said Leslie Carr, a British man who is one of the 300 stuck at the hotel. “Not many people are downstairs hanging around to talk or discuss anything.”
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China has denied discriminating against Mexicans, saying it is exercising proper precaution to prevent the spread of the virus. Hong Kong, in particular, is extra careful after a SARS outbreak in 2003 killed almost 300 people. “In view of the lack of data … we have to be very cautious,” said Yuen Kwok-Yung of Hong Kong University. “I believe that as time goes by, we can change our strategy.” Meanwhile, hundreds of farmers in Egypt threw rocks and bottles Sunday at police who were following government orders to cull all the country’s pigs. U.N. officials have said the move will not stop the spread of the virus, and the country has not recorded any case of H1N1. While it is a predominantly Muslim country, the pigs mostly belong to the Coptic Christian minority, fanning religions tensions. Ecuador tightened its borders after one person tested positive for the virus in neighboring Colombia. And in the United States, several talk show hosts have used the spread of the virus to re-ignite the volatile issue of immigration from south of the border. On Thursday, Massachusetts talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants “criminalians” and that hospital emergency rooms had become “essentially condos for Mexicans.” “The concern and hysteria is really getting a little bit out of control,” said Mia Taylor, a graduate student in San Diego, California. “People need to just take a step back and act with more common sense and not appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Amidst the tensions, a sliver of hope emerged when Mexico said Sunday the epidemic had peaked, and life may return to normal this week. Watch how flu is on the decline in Mexico » In the city of 20 million, the government had ordered a shutdown of about 35,000 public venues, mandated restaurants to serve take-out only and postponed soccer games. Sunday Mass, which normally draws millions of worshippers, was canceled — except for one service beamed across television sets. “It’s surreal to say the least. And the masks add to that,” said Cristiano Oliveira, a Brazilian living in Mexico City for the last year and a half. “There was, to me, at least the impression that Mexico City would never slow down. And now it’s halted.” The Mexico City Naval Hospital has examined more than 2,000 patients since Wednesday. None of them tested positive for swine flu, said Dr. Manuel Velasco. “That may mean the virus is stabilizing and then can be totally controlled,” he said. “But we have to wait for the new week to begin.” Officials at the World Health Organization, however, said it was premature to declare victory against the flu. The outbreak is only about 10 days old, said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. Even if the illness abates, it could return. “I … would like to remind people that in 1918 the Spanish flu showed a surge in the spring, and then disappeared in the summer months, only to return in the autumn of 1918 with a vengeance,” Hartl said. “And we know that that eventually killed 40 million to 50 million people,” he added.
U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius echoed the sentiments. “This is no time for complacency,” she said. “We want to stay out ahead of this.”