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Swine Flu Hurting Mexican Economy

Just as financial markets were starting to show glimmers of hope, a new crisis threatens economies already weakened by the global slowdown. Nowhere is the impact more acute than in Mexico City, where experts say the swine influenza A-H1N1 virus originated.

In Mexico City, where a five-day ban on non-essential activities has begun, traditional May Day celebrations have been cancelled.

Many restaurants are closed, and street vendors say even regular customers are staying home.

Restaurant owner Sergio Goiri says the outbreak could not have come at a worse time.

"Business has gone down by 80 percent, waiters aren't getting any tips - it's pretty hard for our economy. Restaurants are going through a pretty bad time right now," he explained.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard acknowledges the ban on public gatherings is unpopular, but he says without them, the virus could spread faster.

"What could happen, as different international experiences have shown, is that it could take much longer before we become able to control the virus," he noted. "And if that happens, the damage to the economy, to unemployment, to revenues, to the city will be much worse."

Mexico City's Chamber of Commerce estimates the city has been losing $58 million per day since the outbreak began. Chamber President Arturo Mendicuti says that does not include restaurant closings or the absence of tourists.

"And I mean, what can I even say about the tourism? The hotel industry has really gone down, lots of reservations have been cancelled, and some European countries are repatriating their visitors," he said.

Tourism generates about $14 billion annually for Mexico. Experts say travel and flight restrictions can only hurt the depressed Mexican economy, which was forecast to shrink by nearly five percent before the outbreak.

Although the World Health Organization says the death toll from swine flu appears to be stabilizing, the worry in Mexico is not how long the outbreak lasts, but how long the fear persists.