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Life In Mexico City Slows Amid Flu Fears

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Now to the place where the outbreak was first reported: Mexico City. Public life there slowed dramatically today as the government called on people to stay in their homes to slow the spread of swine flu. Officials in Mexico say more than 1,300 cases of the disease have been detected. The death toll stands at 20.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.

JASON BEAUBIEN: On Sunday afternoons, residents of Mexico City usually pour into the streets and parks of this city of 20 million people. But today, parts of the city looked like ghost towns. Streets that are usually packed with honking taxis had only a few cars in them. Professional soccer matches took place in empty stadiums. And at the city's sprawling main cathedral, mass was celebrated behind closed doors. The service was instead broadcast on the radio.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The archdiocese cancelled all public services, not just at the main cathedral, but throughout the capital until further notice. The government has ordered nightclubs, theaters, museums and other places where crowds gather to shut their doors. Playgrounds have been padlocked.

And in the most dramatic move of all, federal authorities have closed all schools in the capital, the neighboring state of Mexico and San Luis Potosi for at least another 10 days.

Mariano Alberto(ph) is sitting on a white five-gallon bucket that he usually uses to wash parked cars. A white mask covers his mouth. He says the streets have been practically empty this afternoon.

Mr. MARIANO ALBERTO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The people are in their houses because of this disease, he says. And for him, fewer people in the streets means fewer cars to wash and less money.

One place where people are still gathering is outside Lopez Mateo Hospital, a public facility in the south of the city. They're gathered outside because the hospital is strictly limiting visits for patients, and people in this crowd, almost all of them in surgical masks, are waiting to try to see their loved ones. Hospital administrators also weren't letting in reporters.

Dr. Salvador Garcia Ramirez(ph) was coming out for a break. He says there's a lot of fear right now, both among the general public and the staff.

Dr. SALVADOR GARCIA RAMIREZ: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: There's fear, for example, he says, because some of our co-workers have also gotten sick. Asked if the hospital is overcrowded, he says it isn't. He says in the last couple of days, the number of people coming in has actually declined.

While the government is calling on people to seek medical attention immediately if they have signs of a flu, Garcia says he's not sure that everyone will. He worries that with so much attention focused on this potentially deadly disease, people are afraid that they might catch it at the hospital. Or if they do already have it, that they could be held there.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.