For the first time in anyone's memory, the Mexican government ordered on Friday the closure of all schools in the capital because of a mysterious influenza-like epidemic, or "swine flu." That's millions of young people -- from preschools to the universities -- abruptly stuck at home on a working Friday.
They're also recommending staying away from restaurants, the metro, and "crowds." In Mexico City?
** The World Health Organization says 60 people have died. (*Now the number is 20). And there's fear this virus may have already spread to the United States. The New York Times reports with two bylines:
** Afternoon update: L.A. Times right now:
"We are monitoring the evolution of the epidemic and, so far, it is
under control," national Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said today.
Around 950 people are reported to be ill with flu symptoms, including a high fever, severe headache and persistent cough, he said. Government officials took the rare step of a synchronized television broadcast late Thursday night to order parents to keep children home from school. It was possible that schools will remain closed next week, officials said.
The United Nations lists Mexico and most countries in the developing world as "medium" prepared for pandemic threats. Here is the U.N. page on previous influenza pandemics. And the World Health Organization page on the current situation in North America.
The slow-moving Health Secretariat portal has updated info from the federal government.
** Evening update: Museums were also closed Friday because of the swine flu fear campaign. But what are things like on the street right now? People are out and about, only every other pedestrian is wearing a surgical mask. Some arty party events tonight have been canceled, but otherwise, D.F. life as normal, if just a bit more surreal than usual.
The Mexico City government is saying tonight that, if and when the time comes, there'll be enough treatment for everyone. Somehow that isn't very comforting to hear. And when should you go see a medical professional? When you get these symptoms, the D.F. government says.
** Late evening update: The Washington Post captures the citizen's general mistrust of what the authorities tell us:
"We are very angry because of this," said Elessia Galindo, 44, whose 10-year-old daughter's school classes were canceled. "I could not go to work because my kids didn't have school today, and who is going to stay with them? I will have a problem for this at my job. Now the government will use the vaccines for the doctors and what about us? This just shows the bad planning of our bad government."
Of course, here in Centro, the neighbors and I are re-activating the Survival Brigade. Tonight: a mask-decorating party.
* Last updated, 23:55 local time. We'll post more Saturday evening.
* Photo above, looking for a vaccine in Mexico City, via El Universal.