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Mexico reports new flu deaths

MEXICAN health officials have reported that testing of backlogged cases has increased the country's confirmed swine flu death toll from 31 to 42, including three new deaths in the past two days.

Officials also have confirmed 1,070 other cases of infection.

Health Secretary Jose Cordova said most of the new confirmations came from older cases.

The news came yesterday as Mexico ended a five-day, government-ordered shutdown designed to contain the virus.

Mexico City showed more of its usual ebullience during a raucous morning rush hour. Thousands of newspaper vendors, salesmen hawking trinkets and panhandlers dropped their protective masks and added to the familiar din of truck horns and street music. Cafes accepted sitting customers, and many corporate offices reopened.

Construction worker Roberto Reyes walked through a capital subway station without a protective mask.

"The news says all of this is over, so I got rid of my mask, and a lot of people are doing the same in the streets," he said.

Others worried about Mexico letting its guard down too quickly, especially with high schools and universities reopening today, and primary schools reopening next week. Mexico's shutdown was designed to reduce the spread of the virus at its epicenter, and deaths did slow as the country mobilized an aggressive public health response to the epidemic that has gone on to sicken at least 2,057 people in 24 countries.

But the virus keeps setting off more health alarms, especially after Mexico announced the jump in the confirmed death toll.

Two of those deaths were from Tuesday. While the rate of new cases and hospitalizations has declined, epidemiologists said the virus has spread throughout Mexico.

"We have seen a tendency (of the outbreak) to diminish, but not disappear," Health Secretary Cordova said.

Mexico's government had imposed the five-day shutdown to curb the flu's spread, particularly in this metropolis of 20 million where the outbreak sickened the most people. Capital residents overwhelmingly complied - other towns less so - and government officials hailed the drastic experiment as a success.

Some, however, again urged caution. "We can't make a prediction of what's going to happen," said Dr Ethel Palacios, deputy director of the swine flu monitoring effort in Mexico City.

Mexican Finance Secretary Agustin Carstens unveiled plans on Tuesday to stimulate key industries and fight foreign bans on Mexican pork products. He said persuading tourists to come back is a top priority.

Carstens said the outbreak cost Mexico at least US$2.2 billion, and he announced a US$1.3 billion stimulus package, mostly for tourism and small businesses.


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