Biden hits panic button on swine flu

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. went off-script Thursday and said he would advise his family not to take an airplane or even get on a subway to avoid the swine flu — just a day after his boss, President Obama, told Americans only far more modest measures are needed, such as washing hands and stifling coughs.

“I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Mr. Biden told NBC’s “Today” show.

Mr. Biden’s office, apparently realizing he had gone to far, immediately issued a statement arguing that the vice president was only giving the same common-sense advice the president gave in his prime-time news conference Wednesday.

“On the ‘Today Show’ this morning the vice president was asked what he would tell a family member who was considering air travel to Mexico this week. 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,” said his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Alexander. “If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways.”

But Mr. Biden did not limit his remarks only to those who were sick. He said he himself wouldn’t go anywhere in a confined space, such as an airplane or subway.

He said the crisis was not limited to Mexico, where the flu outbreak appears to have begun, but rather “it’s [that] you’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway.”

On Wednesday Mr. Obama cautioned against going too far in worrying about the flu and said basic precautions were enough: “Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

Mr. Obama also said he would not impose travel restrictions on Mexico or order the U.S.-Mexico border closed, arguing that “would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.”

The comments are all the more striking because Mr. Biden used to be a regular train rider, commuting on Amtrak when he was a senator from his home in Delaware to Union Station.

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