Mexico said a new flu virus has killed up to 149 people and it ordered all schools to close across the country on Monday as the disease spread in the United States, Canada and Europe, raising fears of a pandemic.
The flu virus spreads quickly between humans and although it has so far only killed people in Mexico, governments across the world took measures to try to reduce its impact.
The World Health Organization said its emergency committee could decide to raise its pandemic alert level, currently at 3 on a scale of 1 to 6, to phase 4 or 5. The move would show the WHO believes that large outbreaks are possible.
US health officials said they now had 40 confirmed cases of the flu, including 20 new at a New York City school. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for caution over travel to Mexico and the European Union also urged citizens to avoid non-essential travel to areas affected by swine flu.
Mexico relies heavily on tourism, its third biggest source of foreign currency, and millions of Americans travel to Mexico every year. Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the outbreak is now suspected to have killed 149 people and the number of cases would continue to rise. Schools in the sprawling capital had already been closed but he ordered classes cancelled cross Mexico until May 6.
Oil prices fell more than 4% to below $50 a barrel as investors feared a new blow to an already fragile global economy if trade flows are curbed and manufacturing is hit.
The virus is widely being called swine flu although it has components of classic avian, human and swine flu viruses and has not actually been seen in pigs.
Spain became the first country in Europe to confirm a case of swine flu when a man who returned from a trip to Mexico last week was found to have the virus. But his condition, like that of 40 cases in the US and six in Canada, was not serious.
A New Zealand teacher and around a dozen students who recently returned from Mexico were also being treated as likely mild swine flu cases.
In the first confirmed cases in Britain, Scotland’s health minister said two people tested positive for swine flu and were being treated under isolation in a hospital near Glasgow. Suspected cases were also reported in France, Italy and Israel.
Many countries have stepped up surveillance at airports and ports, using thermal cameras and sensors to identify people with fever, and the WHO has opened its 24-hour “war room” command centre. (Reuters)