4 May 2009

Mexico sends plane for confined nationals in China

9:47 pm on 4 May 2009

Mexico announced plans on Monday to send a plane to retrieve dozens of its nationals confined across China, which quarantined them as a protective measure against a deadly new strain of flu.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa accused China at the weekend of discrimination after Beijing ordered dozens of Mexicans into seclusion across the country, although only one, a man now in Hong Kong, has been found to have swine flu, also known as H1N1.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu rejected the criticism on Monday, saying isolation was the correct procedure.

But a spokeswoman for the Mexican embassy in Beijing said her government planned to send a plane to China to take back confined nationals and other Mexicans who want to leave.

She said that as of Sunday, about 70 Mexican nationals were in confinement in China, mostly Beijing and Shanghai. It was unclear when the flight would arrive and if the Mexicans who want to leave will all be allowed to take it.

Mexico is China's second biggest trade partner in Latin America - behind Brazil - and its biggest export market there, according to Chinese statistics.

The outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has passed its peak and fewer people are being admitted to hospitals with serious symptoms, Mexico's health minister says.

Jose Angel Cordova says the outbreak of H1N1 flu appeared to have peaked in the country between 23 April and 28 April, and fewer people had admitted themselves to hospitals with serious flu symptoms in the past few days.

However he warned it was too early for Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak that has spread to up to 19 countries, to let down its guard.

After days of alarm and a partial shutdown of the economy that had kept streets eerily quiet, the atmosphere in Mexico's capital appeared more relaxed on Sunday, with some people venturing out on bikes or running. Many no longer wore masks.

As testing improves, Mexican authorities have scaled back their estimate of how many people could have died from the flu strain to over 100, down from 176. Only 19 deaths in Mexico are confirmed as being caused by this flu.

But new cases of the virus, which mixes swine, avian and human flu strains, still were being tracked across the world, keeping alive fears of the threat of a pandemic. Experts stressed that the term "pandemic" describes geographic spread and does not categorize severity of illness.

The WHO said its laboratories had identified 787 H1N1 flu infections in 17 countries, including Ireland. Its toll lags national reports but is considered more scientifically secure.

Colombia became the latest country to report a confirmed case of the disease.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday the new flu had spread to 30 US states and infected 226 people.

But CDC acting director Richard Besser said on Sunday there were "encouraging signs" that the new strain was not more severe than what would be seen during normal seasonal flu.

He added he still expected the virus to have a "significant impact" on people's health. The US government said on Sunday it hoped to have a vaccine ready for the new flu strain by the autumn.