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Mexico Faces Shut Down Over Swine Flu


Mexican President Felipe Calderon is urging people to stay at home while the federal government suspends non-essential activities in an effort to combat the spread of swine flu.

In a nationally televised address late Wednesday, Mr. Calderon said that home was the safest place for Mexicans at this time.

The Mexican government is suspending non-essential activities for five days, starting Friday. Mexican Health Minister Jose Cordova said food, medical and transportation sectors will not be affected. He also said there are 99 confirmed cases of swine flu in Mexico, eight of them fatalities.

The World Health Organization has raised its alert level for swine flu to Phase 5, indicating a pandemic could be imminent. It is one step below a declaration of a pandemic, which is defined as an illness occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

The European Union will hold emergency talks Thursday in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama says the swine flu outbreak is a cause for deep concern, but not for panic.

The United States confirmed its first death Wednesday, a 23-month-old boy in the state of Texas, which borders Mexico. State officials say the child was from Mexico and had traveled to the U.S. to visit family.

At a news conference on Wednesday, President Obama said he has been advised there is no need at this time to close the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mr. Obama urged Americans to be vigilant against the virus, and take common sense precautions to protect themselves, including washing their hands and staying home if they are sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 91 people in 10 U.S. states have been infected. Some schools are closed in the United States as well. The city of Fort Worth, Texas says all 144 of its schools will be closed indefinitely beginning Thursday, after a case of swine flu was confirmed at one school.

New U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the federal government has 50 million courses of treatment of the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, used to treat swine flu, and has begun shipping portions of the stockpiles to states.

Other countries with confirmed cases are Austria, Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Israel, Spain, New Zealand and Switzerland. Australia, Colombia, France, Denmark and South Korea are among nations investigating suspected cases.

Many countries have urged their citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. Mexican Treasury Minister Agustin Carstens says the outbreak will cost the Mexican economy between 0.3 and 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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