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Flu Forces Mexicans To Stay Home, Shut Businesses

People wait in line Thursday to see a doctor at a mobile health clinic in Mexico City.
Joe Raedle
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People wait in line Thursday to see a doctor at a mobile health clinic in Mexico City.
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It was supposed to be Dia del Nino in Mexico on Thursday, a children's version of Mother's or Father's Day, when parents buy treats for their kids and schools usually schedule special activities and serve cake.

But there were no classes and nowhere to go to celebrate. All the schools in Mexico -- along with much of the country's government and stores -- have closed or curtailed operations amid the deadly swine flu outbreak.

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.

Mexico, the country hardest hit by the flu outbreak, was already in a sharp recession due to the global economic downturn. President Felipe Calderon has urged all businesses not crucial to the economy or public safety to close between now and May 6, encompassing a long holiday weekend, in an effort to stem the spread of swine flu.

Business Owners Worried

Some businesses owners say that the situation could break them.

Fernando Perez Gomez, who runs a print shop near the national university in southern Mexico City, says be doesn't know how long he can stay in business if the swine flu crisis goes on.

"Since last Thursday there hasn't been any work," he says. "Today practically zero. There isn't anything. Right now we are just finishing some jobs from last week. But there isn't any economic activity."

Alejandra Arias Victoriano, who works at a mini-carnival in the city, says her family has been affected deeply by the influenza outbreak. Arias lives with her husband and seven children in a small shipping container parked on the street next to the bumper car ride.

The kids aren't studying and they're missing a lot of school. "They want to go to the park and they are all closed. They want to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, and they are all shut," she says.

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 but Arias worries about her other kids.

"The fear is that there are seven of them," she says, "and another one of them might catch it."

She wanted to get her children cake for the holiday, but with the rides idle she is not working and she didn't feel she could afford it. Anyway most of the local bakeries are closed.

Essential Services Remain

Minister of Health Jose Angel Cordova, announcing the closings, said essential services won't be affected. The shutdown order does not apply to supermarkets, pharmacies and other basic services, he said.

"We will guarantee the production of food and medicine," he said, "and make sure essential goods and services are available to the public."

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Jason Beaubien
Jason Beaubien is a Peabody award-winning journalist. He's filed stories from more than 60 countries around the world. His reporting tends to focus on issues in lower-income countries. Often his reports highlight inequities, injustices and abuses of power. He also regularly writes about natural disasters, wars and human conflict. Over the last two decades he's covered hurricanes in the Caribbean, typhoons in the Philippines, multiple earthquakes in Haiti, the Arab Spring, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the drug war in Mexico.
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