Oh no. Reforma is reporting that a man who shook the hand of U.S. President Barack Obama at the Anthropology Museum during his state visit last week died the next day from flu-like symptoms. (We're checking on this.) Not to worry, though: Obama's post-trip health is fine. But the "swine flu" is still spreading rapidly, with "pandemic potential" and no containment in sight. Cases have been reported in California, Texas, Kansas, and among prep school kids in Queens, New York.
The New York Times is noting that Obama has yet to fill top federal health positions in his government; so far the most the administration has done is move supplies of Tamiflu and face masks to San Diego and San Antonio. Swell. And, uh-oh, a British Airways crew member has been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms after a flight from Mexico City to London.
In D.F., the epicenter of the epidemic, one resident summed up the mood for Reuters today: "I think it's worse than they're telling us." Well, most public events have been canceled. The metro is still operating but with hardly its normal level of weekend traffic. Public gathering spaces are closed or nearly empty -- that includes art openings (most of them), museums, movie theaters, and soccer matches. Unbelievably, schools will be closed until "at least" May 6, the health secretary has announced, raising the fear factor considerably.
That's at least 10 total weekdays of no classes for more than 6 million students at all levels. To put things in perspective, the last time classes were shuttered for days on end was during the apocalyptic Mexico City earthquake of 1985.
On Saturday, while the top brass at the WHO convened an emergency meeting in Geneva, soldiers in Mexico City were passing out face-masks at traffic stops, metro stations, and plazas. A militar in fatigues handed me a mask upon entering metro Bellas Artes, but it fell apart before I could even get on a train. On board, passengers eyed one another suspiciously and made every effort to avoid contact with strangers.
The NYT tonight:
Even Sunday Mass will probably be affected. The Roman Catholic Church gave worshipers the option to listen to Masses on the radio and told priests who decided to hold services to be brief and put Communion wafers in worshipers' hands instead of their mouths.
Axel de la Macorra, 46, a physics professor at National Autonomous University of Mexico, said he became worried when he learned recently that a 31-year-man who played at a tennis club he once belonged to had suddenly died. "He got sick at the beginning of April and two weeks later, he was dead," said Mr. de la Macorra, who was weighing whether to attend a First Communion with 200 guests on Saturday.
Now, this is the sort of atmosphere some of us have most feared, health worries aside: An already heavy-handed federal government in Mexico issued an ominous decree on Saturday, saying it reserves the right to hold and quarantine anyone, enter and search any public or private establishment, and more or less do whatever it deems necessary to stop the virus from spreading.
Which makes you wonder if this is really Mexico's "worst nightmare." As of right now, 1,000 cases are reported in the country, with more than 60 being fatal, mostly in Mexico City and with other deaths blamed on swine flu in neighboring states. Meanwhile, the federal health secretariat website is currently down.
* Post updated.
** Previously, "Monitoring the deadly flu epidemic in Mexico."
*** Photo above by Conrad Starr.