Mexico has started a five-day shutdown of most offices and businesses in a bid to halt the spread of a deadly flu strain, as officials said they are encouraged by signs the number of new cases is dropping.
Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the public hospitals that serve around half of the country had admitted 46 patients with severe flu symptoms on Thursday, down from 212 patients on April 20.
“This is encouraging,” he said.
President Felipe Calderon asked Mexicans to stay home over the long Cinco de Mayo holiday, which begins today, and urged businesses to close.
“There is no safer place than your own home to avoid being infected with the flu virus,” he said.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent materials for a quick diagnostic test to Mexico so scientists there can quickly screen people for the new flu.
The centre’s Dr Richard Besser said test kits were also en route to health departments in all US states to speed up surveillance.
Mr Cordova said tests from samples sent to laboratories in the United States, Canada and Mexico have only confirmed 12 out of 176 deaths blamed on the H1N1 swine flu virus.