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Apocalypse averted?

Swine flu continues to dominate headlines in Mexico. Despite continued infections, a pandemic appears unlikely. The economy gets hammered. Hotels offer free years of vacation to tourists who fall ill.

Top News: The dreaded A H1N1 virus — more commonly known as swine flu continued to dominate the Mexican news in the first two weeks of May, albeit at a less feverish pitch than when it was discovered here in late April.



The first major development for the world media to swallow was that the new bug with its epicenter in Mexico was not quite as bad as initially feared. Tens of thousands were not dying in the streets, and in fact many cases originally suspected as swine flu were confirmed to be a range of other respiratory conditions. 



Following this brighter news, Mexico finally got its cogs rolling again, ending a shutdown of schools, restaurants, discos, museums and almost all other public places that had lasted a fortnight. The swarming capital city of 20 million came to life again, with people back on the street, kids back in school … and its famous traffic clogging arteries again. 



Amid these developments, the media finally switched gears from criticizing Mexico’s government to deciding it had done a fine job in containing the virus. Gaining particular praise was Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova, who had given twice daily press conferences during the whole crisis, patiently answering endless — and often medically ignorant questions from Mexican and foreign journalists. This transparent attitude to casualty figures and containment strategies was contrasted to China’s cover-up technique to avian flu, a few years earlier.



The Washington Post profiled Cordova, with an especially colorful lead. “The face of the flu outbreak in Mexico is all bushy eyebrows and droopy mustache, and it speaks in tones deeply somber but not quite funereal. The face belongs to a previously obscure gastroenterologist named Jose Angel Cordova, the health secretary, who is now the second most powerful man in Mexico.” 



But it was not all good news for Mexico after the flu storm. First the H1N1 virus, although not quite as devastating as first thought, was still infecting and killing people across the country. By May 13, there had been 60 confirmed dead and 2,446 confirmed cases across the country.



Secondly, several nations continued hitting Mexico’s trade by suspending flights. Countries including Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Ecuador all stopped all commercial air traffic to and from Mexico, saying they were just trying to keep their people safer.



Cuba’s ex-dictator Fidel Castro also added insult to injury by accusing Mexico of covering up the swine flu until after Barack Obama’s April 16 visit. Calderon dismissed the accusation as absurd, saying they only confirmed swine flu in Mexico on April 23.



Money: All these effects of swine flu continued to hammer Mexico’s already struggling economy. Finance Minister Agustin Carstens predicted that there would be negative growth of 4.8 percent in Mexico in 2009 amid the swine flu and global recession. He said the cost of swine flu itself on the economy would be $2.2 billion. But others said that might be optimistic.



Foreign tourism is normally worth $15 billion a year in Mexico, and immediately after the news of the epidemic, the industry has been totally devastated. Paradise beaches and normally packed resorts on the Caribbean coast were barrenly empty. The government tried to kick-start a campaign to lure the holiday makers back. But there were no immediate plans from tour companies to restart their Mexico packages.



Elsewhere: If you’re intrepid enough to plan a trip to Mexico, take advantage, and hit the coast. Travelers can get incredible bargains at five-star hotels and have a golden beach to themselves. The best part of the deal: Some upscale hotels are offering three years of free holidays if you catch the flu during your stay.