- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | The World Health Organization on Monday urged nations not to take extreme measures to combat the spread of a new flu strain, even as Mexico announced the end of its five-day shutdown of public gathering places and nonessential government services.

Senior U.N. officials repeatedly urged lawmakers not to impose unwarranted quarantines, not to ban the import of pork and other goods, and not to impose travel restrictions on the nationals of hard-hit countries.

The officials did not name countries, but the appeal was issued as China and Mexico engaged in a diplomatic spat that had planes from the two countries crisscrossing in the skies to bring home stranded or quarantined nationals.

“Let me make a strong plea to countries to refrain from introducing measures that are economically or socially disruptive and have … no clear public health benefits,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in a video link with the U.N. General Assembly.

“Rational responses are always best,” she said. “More so in a time of economic downturn.”

Her remarks were likely aimed at Beijing, which has quarantined scores of Mexicans, Canadians and others presumed to be infected with the A-H1N1 virus, known as swine flu. China, rocked by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and then the avian flu epidemic, responded to warnings quickly, but perhaps too bluntly, some Western health officials said.

The new virus has spread across the U.S. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health authorities have confirmed about 300 cases in 36 states. Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said Monday there were about 700 more probable cases in 44 states.

Authorities have confirmed four out of 15 suspected cases in Maryland, plus four in the District of Columbia.

Twenty University of Delaware students have contracted mild versions of virus as well, a figure that is likely to climb when the remaining cases are tested.

But emphasizing that some things are back to normal, St. Francis Preparatory School in New York, which had the biggest known U.S. cluster of cases, reopened Monday with visits by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and scores of reporters.

Mexican officials also announced that restaurants, offices and libraries would reopen Wednesday, while schools and entertainment-related assemblies will open later in the week.

“This is about going back to normalcy but with everyone taking better care,” President Felipe Calderon said.

As of Monday, Mexico had 727 confirmed cases and 27 deaths, though those numbers are far below what it had reported as probable cases and deaths in the early days of the outbreak - numbers that peaked at nearly 3,000 suspected cases and 168 deaths.

Mr. Calderon also maintained his nation’s diplomatic offensive Monday, saying other governments are discriminating against his citizens, effectively punishing Mexico for its honesty in reporting an outbreak to other countries.

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