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Business as usual in Mexico

MEXICO CITY, May 6 – Offices and restaurants in Mexico were to reopen on Wednesday after a week-long shutdown caused by swine flu but officials now insist it is on the wane.

Although the toll from the epidemic creeps up each day, now standing at 29 dead and more than 913 infected, authorities say it peaked last week and is now under control.

The lifting of the shutdown was to be progressive over coming days.

On Thursday, high schools and universities were to open, to be followed by primary schools and kindergartens next Monday.

There was no immediate word however when cinemas, theaters and nightclubs in Mexico City would be permitted to open their doors again.

Mexico was at the center of the A(H1N1) epidemic that has now spread to more than 20 countries.

The Mexican government, though, is challenging the assumption that the virus originated in the country, and keeps pointing at a smaller outbreak that occurred in the United States around the same time.

President Felipe Calderon said Tuesday the world could thank Mexico for having responded quickly to the emergency.

"The frontline of the battle was Mexico, and we defended all of humanity from the propagation of this new virus," he told national television.

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Calderon\’s office later said that the World Health Organization\’s representative in Mexico, Philippe Lamy, had praised the Mexican government\’s actions.

"The lessons learned from the Mexican experience were essential for the international community," Lamy was quoted as saying.

Calderon cautioned however that "this virus is still circulating," and warned people to maintain hygiene precautions to avoid spreading the disease.

Despite efforts to restore normal life, it was clear the economic damage dealt to Mexico by the disease would be felt for some time to come.

Finance Minister Agustin Carstens told reporters that the nationwide shutdown and the devastation to the tourism industry cost the economy around 2.3 billion dollars, or "close to 0.3 percent" of gross domestic product.

He said the government would roll out a fiscal stimulus package to mitigate the damage that would include a 1.3-billion-dollar injection into the economy.

A marketing campaign to lure back tourists and 380 million dollars in credits for companies and subsidies would also be launched.

Mexico City hotels are down to 10 percent occupancy, and foreign visitors have been absent from the city center and tourist draws, such as the famed Aztec pyramids, which were declared off-limits.

While only China — the origin of the 2003 SARS epidemic — and a handful of Latin American countries have completely cut travel ties with Mexico, several airlines, tour companies and cruise lines around the world have suspended or limited operations.

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Relations between Mexico and China turned frosty when 70 Mexicans were placed under quarantine in China after one Mexican there was confirmed to have been infected.

The Mexican and Chinese governments chartered jets that on Tuesday picked up nationals from each other\’s country, including many of the Mexicans who had been confined.

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