At least 16 people in Mexico have died from what officials there say is a strain of influenza that originally came from pigs. Meanwhile, swine flu is also being reported in the southern United States. Anchor Katy Clark speaks with The World's Lorne Matalon in Mexico City.
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KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Schools across Mexico City were closed today. That's a lot of schools in a metropolis that's home to some 20 million residents. The reason for the closure was concern over a human outbreak of swine flu. At least 16 people have died from what Mexican officials say is a strain of influenza that originally came from pigs. Meanwhile, swine flu is also being reported in the southern United States, and there are fears that the outbreak could spread farther. In a moment, we'll find out what American health officials are doing to prepare. First, we turn to The World's Lorne Matalon in Mexico City. And Lorne, describe for us the mood in Mexico City today? Are people alarmed or are they annoyed that the government closed the schools?
LORNE MATALON: I think generally there is a sense of alarm. Besides shutting the classes, the government has urged people to avoid large gatherings and to refrain from, you know, the common Mexican greeting of a handshake or a kiss on the cheek. City buses are continuing to operate, but I've seen today passengers on those buses wearing masks, and there are reports that a cough or a sneeze by one passenger has prompted others to relocate. Authorities are now considering extending the precautions to include shutting down workplaces as well as the schools, but for the moment that is not on the table, it's just under discussion. The effect is also being felt at Mexico City's International Airport. Airlines are requiring passengers who are checking in to fill out forms to help authorities there decide who could be at risk of carrying the virus, and anybody deemed to be so is being asked not to actually get on the plane.
CLARK: How unusual is the school closing for Mexico, all the other precautions you're talking about. Is this something that happens from time to time or very surprising?
MATALON: No, it's not surprising given what we know today. It is rare, certainly. We're talking from Kindergarten all the way up to University, so it is certainly rare. The government reaction has been criticized because the decision to shutdown the schools as well as a number of cultural institutions is a dramatic reversal from a previous position that minimized the unusual number of flu deaths picked up by the media in the last couple of days. The government said that it was due to an extension of winter, normally the flu season here, and so people are somewhat upset about that.
CLARK: Lorne, is this swine flu story just all that people are talking about? Is this all over the news right now?
MATALON: Absolutely. It absolutely is. And you can see it walking around in the street. People are wearing masks as they go down into the metro. You know, the normal chaotic traffic here in Mexico City is really calm today. I mean, there's not much traffic. That's partially due to the fact that people aren't commuting to schools, to universities, and possibly to some businesses.
CLARK: Has the Mexican government said when schools will reopen? When people can get back to their normal routine?
MATALON: They have not. They have said nothing so far about what is going to take place over the weekend, announced no plans for Monday, but people are on guard, cautious, concerned and in some cases quite alarmed.
CLARK: The World's Lorne Matalon in Mexico City. Thank you, Lorne.