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April 28, 2009

New limits on Mexico crowds; flu crosses frontiers

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico ordered restaurants to limit service to takeout on Tuesday and closed pool halls and gyms, as swine flu crossed new borders overseas and in the United States, where at least 64 people have been infected by the illness.

World health officials in Geneva said they believed the virus appears to be establishing itself in communities and be able to produce larger outbreaks outside Mexico, possibly causing a flu pandemic.

"It's a very serious possibility, but it is still too early to say that this is inevitable," the World Health Organization's flu chief, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, told a telephone news conference.

Fukuda cited a New York City case in which some students were infected with the virus, but did not travel like some of their infected classmates to Mexico, where most of the people confirmed with the virus were stricken. He said health experts are examining the situation.

WHO calls this "community transmission" and says it's a key test for gauging whether the spread of the virus has reached pandemic proportions.

The swine flu has already spread to at least six countries besides Mexico, prompting WHO to raise its alert level on Monday but not call for travel bans or border closings. On Tuesday, countries, including Canada, Israel and France, warned their citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.

"Border controls do not work. Travel restrictions do not work," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said, recalling the 2003 SARS epidemic that killed 774 people, mostly in Asia, and slowed the global economy.

"There was much more economic disruption caused by these measures than there was public health benefit," he said, adding that WHO is advising countries to provide sick people with treatments and make sure national plans are in place to ease the impact of a larger outbreak.

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