Governments braced their populations yesterday for a grim battle with swine flu after the World Health Organization stepped up its global alert and said that a pandemic is imminent.The dire warning of the WHO showed that health officials are very worried about the potential for massive numbers of deaths worldwide from the mutated virus, even though the epidemic so far has claimed only a confirmed eight lives in Mexico and one in the United States. Roughly 170 deaths are suspected of having been caused by the virus in Mexico. The epicenter of deadly virus took even more drastic action, ordering a halt to nonessential business and federal government activities, while France pressed calls for a ban on flights to Mexico and Italy urged the EUto stockpile vaccines. EU health ministers planned emergency talks in Luxembourg to coordinate efforts in preventing the spread of swine flu in Europe.The Phase 5 alert, indicating a pandemic could be imminent as the virus spread further in Europe, prompted Mexico to announce the partial May 1-5 shutdown, Health Secretary Jose Cordova said.Switzerland and the Netherlands yesterday became the latest countries hit by swine flu. In the Swiss case, a 19-year-old infected student was mistakenly released from a hospital before being hastily readmitted, reported The Associated Press. The virus, a mix of pig, bird and human genes to which people have limited natural immunity, has also spread to Canada, Peru, New Zealand, UK, Germany, Spain, Israel and Austria.Ecuador, Cuba and Argentina have all banned travel to or from Mexico, and Peru has banned inbound flights. In washington, President barack obama told Americans the government was "taking the utmost precautions and preparations" to stop the virus and urged people to wash their hands, cover their coughs and stay home when they feel sick. Vice President Joe Biden said he would tell his family to stay out of airplanes or subways to avoid contracting swine flu, prompting his office to issue a clarification. "The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico," Reuters quoted Biden’s spokesperson as saying.’WHO has no answers’
"It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in Geneva. "We do not have all the answers now, but we will get them."Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised "the heroic work" of doctors and nurses and asked his countrymen to literally stay in their homes between May 1 and May 5, saying there is no safer place to protect yourself against catching swine flu, than in your house. "In recent days, Mexico has faced one of the most serious problems in recent years," he said Wednesday night. He brushed aside criticisms that his government's response was slow, stressing that they had reacted "immediately."The government said the crisis could cost Mexico up to $70 dollars.Meanwhile, Asia still stayed on high alert but free of confirmed swine flu cases yesterday, while nearby New Zealand - the only country in the region to confirm the disease - wound back its number of suspected infections.Governments kept up strict health checks on travelers arriving from North America that were rushed into place this week as the disease spread quickly from Mexico. "We must not be complacent. We must raise our alert, vigilance against any impending threats of the pandemic," Hong Kong's health chief York Chow told reporters in the Chinese territory.In Tokyo, Japanese PMTaro Aso ordered an all-out campaign against swine flu, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. Aso's cabinet said military physicians would be sent to Tokyo's main airport, hospitals would set up special 'fever clinics' and all live pig imports would be checked. Also yesterday, Egypt started seizing and slaughtering pig herds as a precaution against swine flu despite resistance by farmers and criticism from the U.N., officials said.