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At disease epicenter, some relief

MEXICO began a cautious return to normal yesterday, as the government canceled Cinco de Mayo celebrations while traffic picked up in the capital and cafes reopened following a five-day shutdown to contain swine flu.

The canceled events included the largest one - a re-enactment of the May 5, 1862, victory over French troops in the central state of Puebla. And health experts warned that Mexico and the rest of the world needed to remain on guard against the virus.

Saying the outbreak is waning in Mexico, the epicenter of an illness that has sickened hundreds around the world, President Felipe Calderon announced it was nearly time to reopen businesses. Universities and high schools will open their doors tomorrow, and younger schoolchildren are to report back to school on Monday.

"The school schedule will resume with the guarantee that our educational institutions are in adequate hygienic condition," Calderon said. He urged parents to join educators in a "collective" cleansing and inspection of schools nationwide.

"This is about going back to normalcy, but with everyone taking better care," Calderon said.

Health Secretary Jose Cordova said infections were trending downward after Mexico's 27 deaths, including a Mexican toddler who died in Texas. He said those infected appeared to pass the virus on to an average of 1.4 other people, near the normal flu rate of around 1.3.

However, world health officials stressed that the global spread of swine flu was still in its early stages and a pandemic could be declared in the days to come. Experts inside Mexico's swine flu crisis center warned that the virus remained active throughout Mexico and could bounce back once millions return to work and school.

The World Health Organization said it was starting to ship 2.4 million treatments of anti-flu drugs to the 72 countries "most in need" yesterday.

Scientists said the virus is spreading in the US and that chances of severe cases could rise there as well, even as a New York City school reopened after the swine flu hit following a spring break trip by some students to Mexico.

As of yesterday, Mexico had 840 confirmed cases, and US cases grew to at least 464 in 36 states. Globally, the virus had infected at least 1,569 people in 21 countries, according to the World Health Organization and other health bodies. South Korea, Italy and Germany all reported new cases yesterday.


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