Fears of a global flu pandemic grew as new suspected cases appeared across the world on Sunday, including up to 81 people who died in Mexico, where millions hid indoors to avoid contamination.
While all the deaths so far have been in Mexico, the flu is spreading in the US, and possible infections popped up as far afield as Europe and New Zealand.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed on Sunday that eight school children there had caught the swine flu virus, although the cases were mild and it did not appear to be spreading rapidly to the general population. Another 11 cases have been confirmed in California, Kansas and Texas.
In New Zealand, 10 students from a school party that had been in Mexico were being tested after showing flu-like symptoms.
A pandemic would deal a major blow to a world economy already suffering its worst recession in decades, and experts say it could cost trillions of dollars. The World Health Organization has declared the flu, of a type never seen before, a public health emergency of international concern and says it could become a pandemic, or a global outbreak of serious disease. A 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic killed about 1 million people.
Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest cities, practically ground to a halt on Sunday with restaurants, cinemas and churches closing their doors. “(We are) monitoring minute by minute the evolution of this problem across the whole country,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to see a doctor if they had good reason to suspect swine flu. “At this point, for the whole country we do think that people who have respiratory illness, who have recently traveled to Mexico for instance, ought to be consulting with their doctors,” Anne Schuchat, from the CDC’s public health program, told CNN.