Thursday

Mexico, Flu pandemic imminent

Mexico, Flu pandemic imminentMexican President Felipe Calderon told his people to stay home from Friday for a five-day partial shutdown of the economy, after the World Health Organisation said a swine flu pandemic was imminent.

Mr. Calderon ordered government offices and private businesses not crucial to the economy to stop work to avoid further infections from the new virus, which has killed up to 176 people in Mexico and is now spreading around the world.

"There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus," Mr. Calderon said in his first televised address since the crisis erupted last week.

Twelve countries have reported cases of the H1N1 strain, with the Netherlands the latest to join the list. It said a three year-old child had contracted the virus.

Switzerland also confirmed its first case on Thursday, saying a man returning from Mexico had tested positive for the flu. Peru reported the first case in Latin America outside Mexico.

Texas officials on Wednesday reported the first swine flu death outside Mexico, a 22-month-old Mexican boy on a visit.

The WHO raised the official alert level to phase 5, the last step before a pandemic. "Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world," WHO Director General Margaret Chan told a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday.

"The biggest question is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start," Ms. Chan said.

The world "is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history", she said. WHO has stopped short of recommending travel restrictions, border closures or any limitation on the movement of people, goods or services.


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