Flu Epidemic, Mexico City, April 2009

So, it seems as if Mexico City has been having a bit of a flu outbreak here. There have been something like 1500 cases in Mexico so far, with 100 or so deaths (and a handful of deaths in other countries.) Since there are about 36,000 regular flu deaths annually, so far this is a non-issue from a numbers standpoint. The issue is that this is a new strain, robust and not easily treatable or immunized for. The WHO recently called it a 'threat level 5' imminent pandemic, on a scale that goes up to 6, and there is some good discussion on what that means.

"Egypt began slaughtering all pigs Thursday, although no cases of swine flu have been reported in that country," writes one story, and I add that no cases of pigs having 'swine flu' have been found anywhere in the world. My taxi driver told me that India was killing all their pigs too, though I think he was confusing India and Egypt.

Last Thursday, we got an e-mail late at night announcing that all public and private schools were to be closed for a day. We went out of town for the weekend, and when we came back we heard that schools would be closed for an additional two weeks. So, Piper gets lots of time to play Legos and princess-Barbie kitten-dinos.

Hearing rumors that stores were about to close, I headed to the grocery store (Superama, aka Wal-Mart Mexico) Monday night. But I wasn't alone! I managed to score the single last shopping cart, and there were probably 400 people in line (20 lanes of 20) when I was ready check out. The lines of shoppers took up half the store. I read spanish-language Equire while waiting in line and tried to work my way through their guy quiz (`Eres un patero? Si, o no?').

This morning (Thursday), I headed to the zocalo and downtown (centro historico) to check out the action. Rumors that it was abandoned were not true, but it did look like a ghost town compared to how it is on a normal day.

NB: I've never had a telephoto lens before, and I just bought one. This is my first time playing with it.

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'This morning Distrito Federal Mayor Marcelo Ebrard announced that all establishments where larger numbers of the public gather will be closed: restaurants, bars, discos, night clubs, cinemas, movie theaters, theaters, gyms, and convention centers will suspend activities.'

For restaurants, they can technically still be open if they just sell food to-go. This hombre working at Popeye's takes policy enforcement very seriously (that is a firearm he's holding), even if they neglected to supply him with a mask.

Outside the Insurgentes metro station. Astonishingly, the metro was still running, as are busses (though both with low ridership).
Katy tells me that in Chicago, the majority of photos she sees from Mexico City are of people reading the newspaper. 'Is that all they do there is read the newspaper?' Well, here is my contribution to the medium of newspaper-reading self-referential telephoto flu shots.
Coming out of the metro station.
The metro serves something like 5 million people a day and is the 7th-biggest in the world. (Tokyo is #1, with about double the ridership.) When I go to UNAM, there's a massive struggle of bodies to get in and out of the metro cars... from time to time I miss my exit, because I can't force my way to the door fast enough. It's muscle-to-muscle all the way. But today, it was so calm and peaceful, and makes it look like an orderly city.
This guy uses three masks to text safely.
Thre streets were quite deserted and lonely...
A tamale man. He sells tamales in banana leaves, filled with pork and green chile, served in a roll. Starch-on-starch and all, but that's just how it's done.
There was certainly some traffic out, but compared with a normal day, much less. Maybe half the number of cars -- which means four times faster to get around because the traffic which is there flows so much more smoothly?
This is Churreria El Moro, a famous 24-hour churro-and-chocolate joint. There's someone working there, but I wasn't sure why, since the doors were locked.

Off to the far left you can see the Torre Latinoamericana, at one time Latin America's tallest skyscraper (45 floors), and well-known for surviving both the 1957 and 1985 earthquakes. The building architect still has an office on the 25th floor.

Masks can always be removed!

Downtown is usually packed and bustling, and it was positively relaxed today.

Sanborn's (a large but tasty Mexican chain, owned by Carlos Slim) markets their to-go menu ('Delicious food to to; service at your house.')
`Tacos only to go,' says the sign. So I got five (two potato; two frijole; one green mole, which was the best). 15 pesos, or a bit over a buck.
At the same taco store, Antonio wraps up the salsas.
At the Zocalo (the main square -- the biggest one in the world except for Red Square). A medical tent is set up. The Zocalo itself had a massive event tent set up, though I don't know for what, since all events have been cancelled for a week.
People still need work! Albanil = mason (which I know because a tasty dish at Sanborn's is huevos albanil, bricklayer's eggs). Others were advertising their services as plumbers, electricians, painters, etc.
These pig cookies at a an old bakery downtown (La Vasconia, desde 1879) were feeling neglected, so I bought one.
`Quesadillas only to go, as by official orders!'
This taxista took me home. His name was Pedro, and he happily taught me that I can say Que pedro, Pedro!. Same as Que pasa -- Chilango slang has a lot of alliteration (Simon=Si, Naranjas=No, etc.). He lives near the Zocalo and his three kids are out of school for two weeks, so he drives the taxi. He drives about 16 hours a day. He knows no one who has any flu.

What's he doing differently? "Well, pork is really cheap. No one wants it because they think they'll get the flu from it. But I'm going to buy a lot of pork and eat it."

This is Wednesday's take-home for him. Total was 441 pesos, or about $32 US, which is about $2 an hour before expenses like gas. That's about half what he usually makes. Interestingly, he has a number of 10-12 peso fares... perhaps they get a bargain, since I never get them that cheap.

Has he ever been in a crash? Most taxistas don't admit to it. But Pedro: "Oh yes! I learned to drive from my father, and he was a crazy driver. Every month he would have a crash. And me? Like father, like son."

More for Monday and Tuesday. Where did he go on Tuesday for 400 pesos? I didn't see that til now, but it looks like a real win.

His license plate ends in zero, meaning that he can't drive tomorrow due to environmental restrictions... he'd thought about buying a second car to get around the law, but he couldn't swing the pesos.

Yes! This is a guy, with a loaded rifle, and a mask, running, inside a shopping mall! This is at Centro Comercial Santa Fe, Latin America's largest mall, which is just down the street from our house. (So much for the fancy image stabilizer on that lens.)
I like this one. It's at another store inside the mall -- an Apple store look-alike.
'By official orders, we are permanently closed until further notice,' on a restaurant.
In addition to the movie theater shown here, the government has ordered the closure of all health clubs and discotecas.


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Henry Throop

Last modified Sat May 2 11:43:29 2009