Churches stood empty in Mexico City yesterday and football matches were played to vacant stadiums, as soldiers and health workers patrolled the subway in an effort to prevent the spread of a deadly strain of swine flu.
North of the border, in the US, doctors were advising people worried about the illness to buy painters’ masks from DIY stores as a precautionary measure. Authorities across the globe were torn between the imperative of slowing the spread of a potential flu pandemic and the need to avoid bringing every big city to a grinding halt.
Last night the US authorities were still allowing people to cross the border from Mexico, where it is thought that the swine flu emerged. But customs officials at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings were given protective clothing.
Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, said that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed that eight pupils at a city high school were infected with swine flu after some had returned from Cancún, in Mexico, two weeks ago.
In Mexico, health workers were screening bus stations and airports, handing out surgical masks and looking for possible flu cases. People were advised to seek medical attention if they suffered from multiple symptoms, which include fever, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Hundreds of public events were called off to prevent the spread of the virus in crowds. Zoos and schools have been closed, visits to juvenile correction centres suspended and restaurants were virtually empty.