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Don't kiss me, I'm Mexican

Mexicans feel anger and frustration over the global response to swine flu.

A hospital worker wearing an isolation suit sits at the entrance of a flu inspection clinic in Ditan Hospital in Beijing May 5, 2009. The clinic has been set up in response to the H1N1 virus. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

MEXICO CITY — China holds 70 healthy Mexicans in forced isolation. Paris airport baggage handlers refuse to touch suitcases from Mexican planes. Mexican soccer star Carlos Vela scores a goal in the English premiership but teammates shy away from hugging him.

As swine flu has swept the world, buoyed by a fever pitch media frenzy, Mexicans are complaining they are being unfairly discriminated against as a nation of contagious plague bearers.

The actions of prejudice, they allege, are adding to their woes in confronting the H1N1 virus, worsening the economic impact and making them increasingly isolated.

“In the name of our country, we raise a vigorous rejection to the prejudiced and discriminatory measures taken against Mexico,” President Felipe Calderon said in a televised address on Monday. “I ask all the nations that they stop taking actions that only hurt Mexico and don’t contribute to stopping the spread of the disease.”

The measures confronting Mexicans raise pertinent questions for the international community about what is acceptable and effective in face of a global pandemic threat.

Some responses — such as the refusal to embrace an athlete — smack of simple panic-ridden prejudice.

But some others being challenged by Calderon can arguably be justified as hard-line measures to save lives.

At the top of the list is the decision by several countries — including Cuba, Colombia and Argentina — to suspend all commercial flights to and from Mexico.

Calderon has urged these nations to rethink the tactic, which will inevitably hurt Mexico’s trade and tourism. The economic impact on Mexico has already been calculated as costing $2.3 billion, the finance department said Tuesday.

But the acting governments argue that without the stockpiles of anti-viral drugs held by richer nations, they have to do whatever they can to defend their people. The latest numbers, released on Tuesday, show that Mexico still has the lion's share of swine flu sufferers, with 590 of the world’s 1,124 confirmed cases of H1N1 transmission.

China took an even harder line, rounding up 70 Mexican passport holders who had flown into the country, and keeping them in isolation at government facilities and hotels.

The Mexicans were denied access to their ambassador and several who spoke by telephone to Mexican journalists said they had been poorly treated and were in filthy accommodations.

The Mexican government finally chartered a plane that flew in to pick the residents up on Tuesday, while it complained about the action at the United Nations.