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Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 13:21 UK

Mexico battles 'infected image'

By Cecilia Barria
BBC Mundo, Mexico City

Swine flu hits Mexico
Mexicans put on a brave face despite swine flu

Hotel occupancy rates are down to 20% in Cancun; companies have been losing some $90m (£60m) a day in Mexico City; the government estimates that GDP could drop between o.3% and 0.5%.

Mexico has suffered a human cost from swine flu with 29 confirmed deaths. But it has also been hit economically, with Finance Secretary Agustin Carstens estimating that the outbreak will cost the country $2.3bn.

The government has announce a package of measures to try to counter the economic damage.

In addiction, Mexicans travelling abroad have been affected. In some airports Mexicans have been isolated from passengers travelling from other countries.

China put Mexicans in quarantine, other countries refused to let them in.

The government has denounced what it considers "acts of discrimination against the human rights" of Mexicans.

Stigma

Whether or not there are medical reasons to justify the global reaction to Mexican travellers, here in Mexico City it is seen as exaggerated and "xenophobic".

Mexicans feel that their image abroad has suffered a terrible blow.

"Our jobs have vanished," a taxi driver who works at Mexico City Airport told BBC Mundo.

Francisco Abundis, the director of Parametria, a consulting firm, believes that the image of the average Mexican citizen is being more affected than that of the country.

Swine flu patients
There have been more than 800 confirmed cases in Mexico

"The problem is that the animal associated to this epidemic is not really nice. The term 'swine flu' has a connotation that could activate prejudices about Mexican's hygiene," he says.

But Mr Abundis also believes that the bad image of the country will improve and that tourists will come back to Mexico.

"We will have to bear it for some time. The sooner it leaves us, the better," he says.

Mexican image

Other analysts agree that the effects on the country's image will remain for some time but will disappear in the long run.

"We have grabbed the bull by the horns. We have taught the world a civic lesson in face of disgrace, an example of how to react to an epidemic" says Cesar Martinez, an analyst at Mas Consulting Group.

He praises the way the Mexican government has handled this crisis by keeping the world well-informed of events without hiding bad news.

But he concedes that "there is no easy way out".

"We have to give it some time. But when tourists see that children are going back to school, that the restaurants have opened their doors, that life's come back to normal they will come back" he says.



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