But later at Espinos I noticed a change. The employees were no longer wearing masks. “No masks today?” I asked, “No,” the cashier smiled waving her hand in front of her face, “mucho calor!” too hot, she said. The fear was wearing thin. No cases of H1N1 reported. The few days of concern and safeguards were taking a toll and the numbers weren’t adding up. More and more people, both Mexicans and gringos alike were asking “what is going on, how much of this is blown out of proportion? Was this flu really as deadly and as virulent as the media and government would have us believe?”
Initial reported cases of confirmed diagnoses and deaths within Mexico were revised. Instead of thousands confirmed ill from this new strain of flu, governments, health organizations and world media were now saying only 455 cases confirmed illnesses and 16 deaths attributed to H1N1, not 167 previously reported. In a county of 110 million people, these numbers were miniscule. Stats began to pop up and were discussed by those in town: 36,000 die each year in the U.S. during flu season from flu and complications – how and why was the world in a frenzy over the “outbreak” of H1N1?
When all is said and done there might be plenty of blame to go around. The last couple of day’s news sources are reporting that experts say this flu might very well “fizzle out” in the next two to three weeks. They say it is possible it may come back in the fall and winter and perhaps stronger, but as with previous reports, this is speculation. What isn’t speculation but sad fact is that it will take months, if not years, for the Mexican economy and its people to rebound from this nightmare.
According to a recent Reuters report: “With its tourism industry savaged, shoppers staying home and exports to the U.S. in steep decline, Mexico could find itself in the longest, deepest recession it has seen in years,” according to analysts.
Approximately 45% of Mexicans live in what is described as “moderate poverty.” Tourism in Mexico generates approximately $14 billion annually and in an economy already depressed and tourism negatively impacted due to the U.S. media reports about widespread drug violence within the country, the nation will fall into even greater despair. Mexico City’s Chamber of Commerce estimates that the city is experiencing a loss of approximately $58 million dollars each day since the outbreak, which doesn’t include escalating losses due to restaurant closures and lack of tourists.
We will never know how much of the fear-fueled media hype is responsible for the continued decline and economic depression in Mexico. More and more people are canceling business trips and vacations. I can’t help but feel that both sides of the political coin, the rightwing media voice that has long instilled the fear of “other,” Mexico, and the unsafe borders, the “wanton” violence, so blown out of proportion and oftentimes slim or slanted on facts, as well as the extremist leftwing reporting that blames this new strain on malevolent government forces, deliberate biochemical wars, big pharma and the likes – are all partially responsible for the world-wide paranoia that has systematically taken down a country I have come to love. A country where I live half of my life, feel safe, at home and for which I am grateful.
From my terrace last night, the city seemed eerily quiet. Was I imagining a lack of cars and music and voices usually profound in and around my neighborhood and the jardin, or was it silent due to people afraid to go out, opting to stay indoors or leave town altogether? For a moment I felt vulnerable, not because I felt I was in danger of contracting a flu that had yet to make its way anywhere near my adopted town of San Miguel de Allende, but more so because of the strange ambience and seemingly lack of life around me. Was fear itself, the prospect of panic in upcoming days contributing to my feelings of vulnerability – the fear of the unknown - the fear of fear?
Looking out across the rooftops and marveling at the brilliant lights of the Parroquia Church, Las Monjas and Bellas Artes, I knew I’d be okay. But the ache in my gut was in the knowing that this town, this country would be suffering financial hardship for years down the road. Families, who had little, would have less. Children would go to bed hungry. And at the end of the day, a flu strain that just might not have the wherewithal or virulence that the world was warned of won’t be the only player in what helped further cripple a country, a people, a culture.
For my money, much of the U.S. entertainment media that calls itself news but thrives on sensationalism and scare tactics, no longer reliable, factual or accountable for their actions and lacking in journalistic integrity, will be greatly responsible for the suffering it has wreaked on its neighbor.
H1N1 was the newest infotainment news. Octomom and her many offspring no longer had enough legs, it was time for a summer hit, an action-packed thriller, and a new flu strain that could wipe out millions worldwide had blockbuster written all over it.
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