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Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 17:06 UK

Bustle returns to Mexico streets

Passengers wait as a train comes to a stop inside a subway station in Mexico City on Wednesday, as the swine-flu shutdown comes to an end
The atmosphere in Mexico City is much more relaxed

High schools, universities, bars and nightclubs are reopening their doors in Mexico as restrictions are lifted following the outbreak of swine flu.

Residents of Mexico City expressed relief as ordinary life was resumed in the usually bustling capital.

But President Felipe Calderon, and world health officials, have cautioned the virus has not yet run its course.

Forty-four people are now known to have died of swine flu in Mexico. There are now 2,099 reported infections globally.

Aside from Mexico, only two other people are known to have died from the virus, both in the US, which is also experiencing the second highest number of infections.

But health officials are keeping a close watch on the spread of the disease, particularly in Europe, where new cases continue to be reported.

Signs of sustained transmission between people there could force the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise its pandemic alert to 6, the highest level.

Keeping a distance

But in Mexico, which has so far borne the brunt of the disease, there was relief as life returned to the country's streets - eerily empty during the government-mandated five-day shutdown which sought to contain the spread of the virus.

"It was a horrible feeling," Marcela, a resident of the capital, told the BBC as she enjoyed a meal in a restaurant.

It's not fair, and it's not valid or useful
President Calderon condemns countries' bans on Mexican imports as a result of swine flu

"Mexico City is a very lively city, very crowded. We live in a city of 23m people, so everywhere you go there are zillions of people, so the [shutdown] was shocking, to see everything quiet and closed, everybody in a sombre mood and panic shopping.

"It was really awful."

Restrictions may have been relaxed, but clear signs of the virus remain, say reports from Mexico.

Official guidelines suggest restaurants maintain a distance of 2.5m (more than 8 feet) between tables, many people still wear masks, and few people walk hand-in-hand or kiss, says one report.

But the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City says that with little evidence of large numbers falling ill or dying, people are feeling much more relaxed.

He says the priority now is to get Mexico back on its feet again. The virus is estimated to have caused damage worth billions of dollars to the economy.

Some trade and diplomatic tensions have been stoked as some countries, among them China and Russia, have slapped import bans on pork products from regions affected by the virus.

'Maintain vigilance'

President Calderon again railed against such "discriminatory measures" after it emerged Haitian officials rejected a Mexican ship carrying rice, fertiliser and emergency food kits - an aid shipment from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Mexican student has his hands disinfected
The WHO is urging the world to remain on guard

"It's not fair, and it's not valid or useful," he said. "I think that it is due to lack of information."

At the WHO's daily news briefing on the virus, acting director-general Keiji Fukuda reiterated that eating pork "does not pose a risk to people in terms of getting this infection".

Mr Fukuda also stressed the importance of maintaining a vigilant stance against the virus, despite its apparently mild character.

Wintertime is approaching in the southern hemisphere, said Mr Fukuda - a time of increased activity of influenza viruses.

Until now, the virus has been largely confined to the northern hemisphere, but Mr Fukuda warned that the virus could change if it saw a greater spread in the southern hemisphere.

Populations there, he said, could be more vulnerable to the virus, due to the greater prevalence of malnourishment, war, and HIV.

"The bottom line is we need to work with countries to be as prepared as possible," Mr Fukuda said.



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