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. Two out of three swine flu deaths are in Latin America

Photo courtesy of AFP.Mexico City offers insurance to bring back tourists
Mexico City on Tuesday introduced free insurance for tourists in a bid to bring back visitors scared away after the swine flu epidemic broke out in Mexico in April. The Tourist Assistance Card would be the first free cover for tourists in the world, said Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard as he handed out the first cards to a handful of foreign tourists. "It aims to place our city where we want to be," Ebrard said, three months after hotel occupancy sunk to record lows as the city shut down to contain the outbreak. Tourists who show they are staying at one of the city's 460 hotels will have access to medical assistance, not only for A(H1N1) symptoms, but also for accidents or other illnesses, ambulance transport, hospitalization and medicines, Ebrard said. The cover, administered by the Mapfre company, also includes dental care, repatriations, legal assistance after robberies, lost luggage and delayed or canceled flights. The sprawling Mexican capital hosts some three million international and four million national tourists each year. Hotel occupancy sunk as low as 10 percent in April and May and is currently at 59 percent, according to industry groups. Despite a peak in southeast regions, officials say A(H1N1) is now under control in Mexico, which has reported 138 deaths and some 14,800 cases.
by Staff Writers
Sao Paulo (AFP) July 29, 2009
Governments worldwide are worried about swine flu but the worst-hit region by far is Latin America, which accounts for around two-thirds of the deaths from the disease.

The outlook is especially unsettling for the estimated 380 million people grappling with winter in South America, where the A(H1N1) virus is speedily propagating.

And authorities in the impoverished region have discovered that all initial stocks of a nascent vaccine due out at the end of September have already been snapped up by European countries, the United States and other wealthy nations.

Argentina already has at least 165 deaths, making it the country with the highest swine flu fatality count in the world after the United States, where 302 people have died.

Mexico, where the pandemic first came to light in April, follows, with 138 deaths.

Chile has recorded 79 deaths.

Brazil, Latin America's most populous nation with 190 million inhabitants, is concerned that its confirmed fatalities, which rose by six Tuesday to 56, so far presage a national emergency, especially as it appears infections are now happening without any contact with travelers.

On a per-capita basis, it is Uruguay -- squeezed between Argentina and Brazil -- that is suffering most. Its small population of 3.5 million has yielded 23 fatalities.

In total, Latin America has more than 570 deaths from swine flu, according to official counts by individual governments.

The worldwide total is 816, according to the World Health Organization on Monday. Its figures often lag behind member countries' tallies by several days.

While the run-of-the-mill, common flu also causes fatalities (36,000 a year in the United States alone), the new A(H1N1) swine flu is causing alarm because of fears it might mutate into a more virulent, deadlier variety.

In the back of many minds is the 1918 Spanish flu, which initially did the rounds without causing many deaths, but later returned as a ferocious bug that killed millions.

One of the biggest worries is that A(H1N1) might combine with elements of A(H5N1) -- a recent bird flu type that, while it passed with great difficulty from poultry to humans, proved 60 percent deadly.

Conscious of the dangers, South American leaders and officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela banded together last week to demand their countries be exempt from patent restrictions in producing the swine flu vaccine.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva suggested the region's health ministers hold an August 9 meeting in Ecuador to negotiate a strategy with the WHO and drug laboratories.

In the meantime, some precautions have been imposed.

Several Latin American governments or regional authorities have extended school vacations to prevent classroom contamination. Stocks of Tamiflu, one of two drugs shown to act on swine flu infections, have been built up.

In Brazil, penitentiary officials in the south of the country, close to the border with Argentina, are reportedly requesting permission to allow non-dangerous prisoners to go into home detention for two weeks to stop the spread of flu in overcrowded cells.

In Mexico, officials acknowledge the situation is out of control in the poor southeast Chiapas state, which features popular tourist sites, and heavy traffic of Central American immigrants heading to the United States.

These are the latest death tolls given in Latin American countries:

Argentina...........165

Mexico..............138

Chile................79

Brazil...............56

Peru.................23

Uruguay..............23

Costa Rica...........21

Ecuador..............17

Colombia.............13

Paraguay.............13

El Salvador...........9

Guatemala.............9

Bolivia...............6

Panama................2

Venezuela.............2

Honduras..............1

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Religious leaders move to halt swine flu
London (AFP) July 29, 2009
Do not shake hands, stop sharing communion wine during services and ban holy water from blessings and baptisms. These are some of the directives issued by Britain's religious leaders in recent days, following similar moves in other badly-affected countries to halt the spread of swine flu among their congregations. "People must understand that it's something that can be dealt with, that t ... read more

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