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Mexicans Criticize Response to Flu

MEXICO CITY -- Two weeks after the first known swine flu death, Mexico still hasn't given medicine to the families of the dead. It hasn't determined where the outbreak began or how it spread. And while the government urges anyone who feels sick to go to hospitals, feverish people complain ambulance workers are scared to pick them up.

A portrait is emerging of a slow and confused response by Mexico to the gathering swine flu epidemic. And that could mean the world is flying blind into a global health storm.

Despite an annual budget of more than $5 billion, Mexico's health secretary said Monday that his agency hasn't had the resources to visit the families of the dead. That means doctors haven't begun treatment for the population most exposed to swine flu - and most apt to spread it.

It also means investigators don't know how the victims were infected - key to understanding how the epidemic began and how it can be contained.

Foreign health officials were hesitant Monday to speak critically about Mexico's response, saying they want to wait until more details emerge before passing judgment. But already, Mexicans were questioning the government's image of a country that has the crisis under control.

Nobody believes the government anymore, said Edgar Rocha, a 28-year-old office messenger.

The political consequences could be serious. Mexico's failed response to a catastrophic 1985 earthquake is largely credited with the demise of the party that had ruled the country since the 1920s.

Meanwhile, some people complained that health workers were turning them away, even as officials urged people to seek treatment quickly if they felt symptoms of flu coming on.

Elias Camacho, 31, a truck driver with fever, cough and body aches, was ordered out of a government ambulance Sunday because paramedics complained he might be contagious, his father-in-law told the AP. When family members took him to a hospital in a taxi, Jorge Martinez Cruz said, a doctor told him he wasn't sick.

Camacho was finally admitted to the hospital - and placed in an area marked restricted - after a doctor at a private clinic notified state health authorities, Martinez said.

The increasing death toll prompted a decision Monday to shut down all schools nationwide for more than a week and vastly limit public gatherings.

Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcon said employers should isolate anyone showing up for work with fever, cough, sore throat or other symptoms. T he Mexico City government was considering shutting down all public transportation if the death toll keeps rising. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said masks were being distributed at subway and bus stops across the city.

Beatriz Amberman left Virginia Beach for Mexico City last week only to find herself in the world capital of a swine flu outbreak.

In every public area there is, they have boxes and boxes of masks for people to cover their mouths and nose, Amberman said Monday from Mexico.

People are being told not to touch anybody, cover your sneeze with the inside of your arm rather than your hand. They don't want people touching a door knob or whatever.

Amberman, a leader of Hampton Roads' Mexican community, is traveling with a delegation from the Institute of Mexicans Abroad as an advisor . The group talked with top government officials about issues affecting Mexican expatriates in the United States.

Amberman said health workers are posted at bus stations and airports, telling people about flu symptoms and answering questions.

There are 40,000 Mexicans and people of Mexican descent in Hampton Roads, Amberman estimated. The flu outbreak is worrying them to varying degrees.

I didn't really think much of it until it was all over the Hispanic news - every channel you turned to had it that soccer games were closed down. That's when you knew it was big, said Jorge Romero, who manages, Jessy's, a Mexican store and restaurant in Norfolk.

This story was compiled from reports by The Associated Press, The Washington Post and Pilot writer Steven G. Vegh.

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