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Mexico looks for flu trend

MEXICO CITY, May 1 – Mexico was on Friday looking for a trend in its flu epidemic that has killed a confirmed 12 people and infected 300 others, as many citizens celebrated the May Day holiday shuttered in their homes.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said late on Thursday "the next four days will be very important to work out the trend."

He noted that, while accelerated laboratory testing was swelling the number of people confirmed to be infected with the H1N1 virus, the number of confirmed deaths was relatively stable.

The 300 people so far confirmed to be carrying the flu were also all "doing well" thanks to rapid medical attention, he stressed.

Cordova admitted that "gave hope," but was reluctant to express optimism until further testing into Monday next week was completed.

During that time, all of Mexico was observing a long weekend that was somber.

Traditional May Day rallies in the country have been canceled, and President Felipe Calderon has urged the public to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus.

Several residents in Mexico City told AFP they intended to follow Calderon’s advice.

"I’ll be staying at home. I have a small child I have to protect," said Martha Fernandez, a 32-year-old businesswoman walking in the street and wearing a mask over her mouth and nose.

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In the capital, considered "ground zero" for the virus because of its concentration of cases, a clampdown ordered by authorities was to remain in place into next week.

Many shops were shuttered, and restaurants, gyms, cafes, bars, cinemas and other public venues were closed in a bid to stop a spread of the contagion.

Non-essential federal government employees were ordered to stay away from work until Tuesday, and schools were shut to help with the isolation measures.

Roberto Sanchez Cabrera, a 41-year-old professional worker walking in the street said he would remain indoors for the break, explaining: "There’s still so much uncertainty."

He predicted, though, that other Mexicans would head to beaches and hometowns despite the risk of further propagating the virus. "Some people have no common sense," he said.

Tourism — one of Mexico’s biggest industries, accounting for around eight percent of the economy — has shriveled out of fear of the flu, and the clampdown that has left almost none of the sights open.

Hotels in the capital had around 10 percent occupancy rates, and international cruise lines were keeping their passenger ships away from Mexican ports.

Financial Minister Agustin Carstens said the flu’s impact would likely cut around 70 billion dollars from Mexico’s 1.5-trillion-dollar economy, which was already beleaguered by the global financial crisis.

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