Leaving the city

Am I becoming paranoid? Returning from the supermarket yesterday, a girl with a yellow and pink baby blanket brushed past me. I didn’t think anything of it until later that evening, when reading one of the numerous press reports that are being churned out every minute, of every hour, of every day, I saw a photograph of two young women waiting in line to be treated at one of the public hospitals. Not only did one of them look familiar, she was clutching the same coloured blanket.

I am writing this from Cuernavaca.

As most of Mexico prepares for a five-day shutdown those that are able to (and have somewhere to go) are heading out of Mexico City. Many will end up in Cuernavaca as it is relatively near to the capital but with enough distance (50 miles) for us all to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Today, the Mexican news suggested that the spread of the virus is slowing, although many remain distrustful of any claims made by the authorities. In fact, there are rumours that this whole crisis has been fabricated by the government in order to generate panic and funds. From what I understand, the arguments go something like this: Just before President Obama’s feted visit to Mexico, President Calderón had a meeting with some of Mexico’s top businessmen. When Obama arrived there was no sign of influenza. But the following Friday, after his departure, the country was alerted to the flu epidemic. The government’s strategy, according to these rumour-mongers, is to milk the Americans of as many Aid dollars as possible. The imagination necessary to believe these conspiracy theories is breath-taking!

Meanwhile, eight cases are confirmed in the UK and globally, twelve countries, across three continents, have reported that they are suffering from the H1N1 flu, which is hugely worrying. Yesterday, the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to five, but today, thank God, the EU refrained from suspending flights to and from Mexico - a relief for me.

We joined the exodus out of Mexico City. Jaime has accompanied me. For the journey here, he gave me the most uncomfortable fabric mask (washable) that I have ever had the misfortune to wear. I know I shouldn’t complain (there is a shortage, after all!) but it was impossible to talk whilst wearing one – the more you spoke, the more it tightened around your face – like a noose around a condemned woman’s neck… Now, I suspect, that this may have been his intention all along. But on top of the curtailment of speech, the elastic seemed to cut off all blood supply to parts of my face – it’s taken me all evening to FEEL my nose again. I fear that some of us are going to be swapping these kinds of scary mask stories all too soon in the future.

Actually, the proposed shut-down in Mexico coincides with two public holidays: Friday through Monday. Residents have been urged to stay at home for the full duration in an attempt to beat the spread of the virus once and for all. This is a tall order to ask of anyone. I was suffering from cabin fever after just one day spent indoors and I was busy writing. It is the being told  that you should not/cannot do something that is so painful. But much more importantly, for many Mexicans there are critical economic considerations. Of course there is the ever increasing concern, amongst business circles, of the effect the virus will have on the country’s already-struggling economy. But let’s not forget those for whom continuing to work is an absolute necessity. Some companies are in a position to pay their workers for enforced time off during the crisis, but for the majority this is not the case. If they don’t work they don’t get paid, and if they have no money for the week, they will not have enough to eat. I really hope some thought will be given to this and how to compensate the average worker for any working days lost during the crisis. The bottom line is that there is no social security here comparable to that available in the UK.

Finally, thumbs up to the WHO, for saying it will now call the virus influenza (H1N1) rather than swine flu. I’m a vegetarian so no fan of pork meat, but agree that it is misleading to suggest that pigs are the real villains in this ever-evolving tragedy (and I was appalled by Egypt's proposed slaughter of the country's entire swineherds).  That’s not to suggest, however, that I think the human-run factory farms are blame free. But I prefer to wait for the investigations to conclude before joining the conspiracy theorists.