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Pigs Can't Fly.... But This Swine Flu
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Advantages: I got 10 days off work. It could have bee worse.
Disadvantages: Hysteria is contagious
Friday 24th April
On my way home from class there seems to be an insane /abnormal number of people wearing surgical masks, but then you see some people wearing them every day, just not in this quantity. I later find out why (thanks, Timesonline, for giving me loads of info on the Budget, but nothing on Swine Flu). At my gym they are giving the masks out free, but they don't really go well with exercise. I am the only person on the cardio floor not wearing one. I also discover how blinkin' hard it is to understand Spanish muffled through these, as I talk to the guy in charge of checking we're only on any machine for 20 minutes as I proceed to spend 45 mins on the elliptical. He can't complain - the place is deserted. Afterwards, as I hit the Step class, I am vindicated. The instructor, it turns out, is a doctor. He gathers us for a quick meeting before we start, to explain the situation and why those little cloth masks are useless. He won't be wearing one for that reason, but we can if we want. No one does, unlike in the previous class. It's Dance Arabe, and today I discovered something I probably would have known any way had I thought about it: blue cloth masks don't really go with gold coin belts, swishy skirts, and billowing material when worn by anyone, but least of all when worn by male instructors.
Saturday 25th April
The gym is still open, and still giving out masks no one is then wearing. It's quieter than usual, but not dead by any means. The international press reports of Mexico City becoming a ghost town are wildly exaggerated.
There are some brilliant conspiracy theories doing the rounds at the moment, my favourite two being:
- The US invented this virus because they don't like Mexicans. Obama was here, but left a week ago - coincidence? What's more, Mr President greeted someone at a dinner function, and that person died from 'flu like symptoms' a few days later...
- The government (probably Mexican) invented the virus and/or hyped it up to take people's minds off the economy.
I go to Soriana (a local supermarket) where people are panic buying canned goods. At Laura's we put on the gym masks (NB: we did NOT buy these) and take photos for Facebook which are either hilarious or in questionable taste, depending on how you look at it.
Sunday 26th April
Emma, one of the school coordinators, has sent out an email. The school shut yesterday, so we were all hopeful that we might get some time off (all normal schools are shut for a week here now). However, the email is to tell us to buy those masks for use on the public transport to and from our classes. Good to know they care.
Today at the gym they are spraying out hands with disinfectant as well as handing out masks. We have progressed from pale blue and useless to a darker blue and still useless.
I hear from Kelli that our used-car-salesman sort of company director has decreed that we are a business not a school and therefore we will not be shutting. He is saying this from Vancouver, where he is va-ca-ing, and therefore out of hitting distance.
I send my 8am Santa Fe student a text to see if he'll be in the office tomorrow as usual, and he replies, "Yes...why?". Um, maybe because the BBC is reporting a Citibank HQ on Reforma shut on Friday, so we were hopeful the business district one would follow suit?
Monday 27th April
Important message from the British Embassy
To: Zoe Page
The Foreign and Commonwealth travel advice for Mexico has recently been updated in light of the outbreak of a new form of influenza affecting several states. The FCO travel advice will be updated regularly as the situation develops. We advise visitors and residents in Mexico to monitor the Travel Advice regularly and to follow the advice of the local authorities.
www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/ travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/mex ico/
If you have not already done so, please register with the Embassy via Locate as soon as possible:
British Embassy Mexico City
The 'helpful' advice you get for being a good Brit abroad and registering with them, as I did when I arrived.
This morning I am on the Metro and pesero to Santa Fe as usual, and we have our class. My student thinks there is little cause for concern. At the Metro they are handing out leaflets on what flu is, how to treat it etc. Mexico is a little different from the rest of the world, so their advice focuses on the following:
- Don't kiss people hello or goodbye
- Don't self-treat with antibiotics (which you can buy here over the counter, with no good reason)
- Don't smoke
At the gym, the evil receptionist we dislike tells us to wear masks, but on the Cardio mezzanine she can't see us, so we leave them around our necks. They itch at the best of times, but breathing sweaty breath into them is impossible. As we do sit ups, Laura asks if the floor is shaking. I think it's just the music vibrating, but it turns out, no, we are having an earthquake. Mexico city's not had this much non-drug-related news in forever.
The best news (for us...silver lining and all that) comes in the afternoon. One by one, we get told of cancelled courses, until the school gives in and cancels all classes until next Wed, 6th May. Most of our students are working from home anyway. So we have over a week off and, for those of us on contract, it's paid. So, yay! Not sure what we can do though since the city is closing down. People are panic buying food still, but I have enough in, so I contemplate panic buying imported magazines and chocolate instead, lest my usual suppliers shut down and I am cut off.
I go back to the gym after a few games of Chess on Laura's roof, but the rules have changed (the gym rules, not the Chess ones). All classes are cancelled until May 6th, so there goes my dream of finally being able to go to the mid-week ones I can never make it to. The gym is still open (for now) but cubre bocas / tapa bocas (those itchy and useless facemasks) have become compulsory, so I wear mine until it's soaked and, I'm sure, going to give me spots, and then I come home.
This morning I texted my landlady to say the internet was down and my shower is lacking water. She replied that she was at the hospital where her mother is an inpatient with....flu. This is the sweet, elderly woman who lives with Lupita, in the flat downstairs. It has reached our building...
Tuesday 28th April
Today I lazily go to the gym before breakfast but still later than normal, but it's a good thing I do since while I'm there they close, by decree of the government, so as soon as we all finish they lock up until a week tomorrow. Back home I consider cleaning the apartment I'm so stir crazy - it's been barely a day, but the promise of a week like this is already scary. I spend the afternoon on the balcony in the sunshine (30 C weather, and at least the rain has gone for another month or so).
Online I learn the government has also shut down all restaurants in the city, allowing take-out only. I assume ice cream places will still be open. I could be wrong.
Today is 28th of the month, and every month on 28th people randomly carry round Jesus statues as they go about their business. There is a great picture on the very bad local English newspaper's website here:
Apparently today is no exception.
This afternoon I meet Laura for ice cream / fruit and a wander that turns into a 2 ½ hour walk. We find ourselves at Parque Delta, our local mall, where the food court is closed but the shops are open. In Soriana random shelves are now completely empty, while others remain untouched. It seems when people here panic buy, they panic buy tins of refried beans more than anything else.
Wednesday 29th April
Our coordinator has requested we hand in our end of month paperwork as normal so I head to the school only to find it all locked up. Pat and Laura are waiting outside talking to Victor. I tell them the news I've picked up - that the DoH has ruled facemasks are useless, and that the number of Swine Flu deaths dropped over night - it's not due to resurrections, mind, but rather they've decided that the 27 'confirmed' deaths are really only 7 'confirmed' and 20 'suspected' as being due to the virus. Eventually Ami arrives and opens up, but technically the school is now shut for a week and we shouldn't be in the building.
Laura and I sit on my balcony and read trashy magazines. I am doing a class on an article from Closer, about a 46 Stone woman. It sort of makes us feel better about missing the gym.
I go to PWC to teach my private student, and as usual I walk the 40 mins there, and sit in the sun for 15 mins on arrival eating my lunch. When I arrive, everyone is wearing masks (JP told me to bring my 'mask face' to class with me, despite REPEATED classes on the order of compound nouns). I also have to have my temperature taken by the security guards who take it once and frown, and then take it again. I do explain I've just walked from Condesa, but they look at me like that's impossible. Eventually, I pass the test. As I wait for JP, I talk to one of them and tell him the things 'no sirven para nada'. He says he would like it better too if I didn't wear one, so he could see my pretty smile (argh) but rules are rules. Except...they're not. As soon as we round the corner towards the lifts, the masks come off. No one on the 4th floor is wearing one as they 'can't work while they have them on'. Try working OUT in one, I want to say. But hey. We have a good, fun class and then I walk home in the sun, stopping at a few shops all of which are still open.
Thursday 30th April
I can't sleep most of the night as I keep listening for Metrobusses, a sign the city's public transport is still running. I wake up to the radio telling me the government are issuing a "stay at home with your family" recommendation for the Puente (long weekend) which starts tomorrow. This seems odd, since if it were so important people stayed at home, surely they'd start it from today? Government offices are finally going to close, and other businesses are being encouraged to shut down too.
I, however, am off, out of town to take advantage of our days off. That's why I need public transport - so I can get to what I'm sure will be an interesting airport, to jump on a plane to Oaxaca for a few nights. May as well make the most of it.
At the airport there are no crowds of people, no lines at check in. It's ace. Until...my flight gets cancelled because of low numbers, so we have to wait 2 hours for the next one. About half the people on board are wearing masks, though obviously they have to take them off to drink their free drinks, and eat their free lime-flavoured peanuts (the flight's only an hour).
Friday 1st May
Today is labour day here, so everything is shut. I go on a tour to Oaxaca state and again, fewer than half the people we meet are donning masks. They are still available in pharmacies here, and I contemplate buying a bunch to resell in the city (profiting from pandemic paranoia and all that) but I think I've missed the boat.
Mexican governmental logic is very strange. They have closed all the open air sites, like Monte Alban here, and Teotihuacan in Mexico City, but...the shopping malls are still open. It's really strange.
Sunday 3rd May
I leave Oaxaca and have to go through a medical check at the airport. Or, as the sign so helpfully says in English, "By federal disposition, every person that undertake (sic) an airship (!) should pass for sanitary review". This means I have to fill in a form, saying 'no' to everything (much like the customs forms when you leave the EU) and have my temperature taken. Again.
Monday 4th May
Back in town, the city is as dead as before, and I am unmotivated. Everything is shut - cinemas, restaurants, museums, the gym. It's all very well having time off work, but with nothing to do, we're starting to go a little crazy. However, the silver lining is that some places that don't fall in those categories are still open for business - think supermarkets, convenience stores and ice cream parlours - so it could be worse. The government shut down continues until Wednesday, at which point they think they will have been able to get rid of the flu, or at least control its spread.
Tuesday 5th May
I'm not supposed to be, but today I am teaching since Emma told me to. There are no special restrictions at this company, but there are massive bottles of disinfectant on every floor. It smells like neat alcohol (probably because it is) and is drying. My student shows me the hand cream someone gave him. Bless.
Before I left the UK I worked in the NHS and had a lot of dealings with our public health department. I receive an email from them today, checking up on how things are here. I'm due back to the UK and the world of healthcare in a few months, so assuming I survive the outbreak, I wonder whether anyone would like to employ me as a pandemic flu expert / survivor? Or maybe I should stay in this part of the world - with a masters in Healthcare Management, plus a nifty certificate in Medical Terminology, I must be practically a doctor in some Central American countries?
Laura comes over and we walk down Insurgentes to get take out from 100% Natural but the nasty people are not even doing food 'para llevar' (take away service, which legally they are still permitted to do). Then we hike past the gym which has a sign up saying that it will re-open when the colour level hits yellow. This confuses us since no one is talking about colour levels here. We wonder if they made it up.
Wednesday 6th May
Technically we are back at work today but all my classes are cancelled, so I only have my private, albeit at 7.30am. At PWC they are still taking temperatures. As I leave at 9am there is a massive queue as everyone arriving for work needs to be checked. I wonder if they've found anyone with a fever yet. I also wonder how sensible it is for 100 odd people to jam in next to each other as they wait.
On the way to PWC, I walk past the gym. The lights are on so my heart lifts but inside the mean receptionist we dislike tells me they are shut. I ask until when, and she says until the level of alert is yellow, so no help there (last night, anxious as we were to know, L & I googled 'Influenca Porcina Amarillo' but to no avail).
I discover that the British Council (the 'swish' school in town) have sent all their ex-pat teachers home. In addition to their flights and their partners' flights, they get 7 days in a hotel in London, £20 per day spending money, plus their usual salary. And so far they have no idea when they will be back. I clearly work for the wrong school.
Today the new 'rule' is that restaurants can re-open but only to 50% capacity. This is interesting, potentially pointless, and being interpreted differently in different places. Some restaurants have removed half of their tables. Others have left them all there but stuck signs on half saying 'out of use'. The weirdest though is some small cafes who have stuck similar signs on every second chair, essentially making a table for 4 now a table for 2. It begs the question what would happen if you went in a big group. Would they split you up, like a group of rowdy school children?
Thursday 7th May
The radio tells me we are now at level yellow. A text from Kelli tells me Kevin concurs, so I hit the gym and it is indeed open. It's also crowded - looks like we weren't the only ones desperate for a workout. Classes are not restarting until Saturday but still. We have to fill in a fitness-to-exercise form, and also have our temps taken. They announce the result - 35.5 C - as if we're supposed to care. All I care about is a workout and a hot shower.
I teach at UBS and discover they have a new rule - business trips from New York to Mexico have been suspended, and anyone who travels to our country is then to stay away from the office for 5 working days. Because clearly viruses care about things like working days. Maybe they work less at weekends?
At school, where I teach an evening class, I cam given latex gloves and a new mask. Clearly I will not wear either, but I play along. We also have massive bottles of hand disinfectant to cart around for our students. I much prefer the mini one I nabbed of a drug rep before I left the NHS a year ago, for my new exciting life in this swine flu infested country.
Friday 8th May
At PWC they have a new sign which makes me laugh: while people are lining up to have their temperatures taken as they arrive to the office, they now have to stand 1m back from the person in front of them... Didn't I say as much? My temperature is taken for the second time today and I am allowed to pass.
Back to the gym, once again my forehead is measured. I swear no one has been this interested in my temp since I was a baby. Maybe not even then.
Afterwards, we meet to go to the newly reopened Biscuits Biscuits, inspired by the letter of thanks I just got from their HQ in response to a Dooyoo review I wrote about the place. It's so nice the city is working again as it should be.
Monday 11th May
Schools are back, and so the front page of today's paper comes with handy hints on how to keep the little ones safe, though the key one seems to be, "Send them to school with short, clean nails" which you'd think was just what nice families did anyway.
Friday 15th May
We understand from London that our current travel advice for Mexico will be relaxed later today. The reference to advice against all non-essential travel will be removed.
www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/ travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/mex ico
Very many thanks for your cooperation throughout this difficult time. We hope you remain safe and well.
As ever, we would ask you to encourage British family, friends and colleagues in Mexico to register with us via Locate:
British Embassy Mexico City
So, it's pretty much over. The city is getting back to normal, and it's almost as though nothing ever happened here.
One of the most interesting things was that there were no sick people to be seen - it didn't feel like we were in the middle of a deadly pandemic because you weren't passing people coughing and sneezing on the street. There are many theories about why only people in Mexico died (with the exception of a Mexican child in the US, and another US citizen who had other health problems). I think it has to do with the fact that here you pay to go to the doctor, so many people don't go or can't afford it (though the cheapest ones cost just £1 per consultation, 20 pesos is quite a lot here). People also self-medicate, think they're getting better, and go to work because they can't afford not to, thus helping the virus to spread. Finally, the health problems of the population (a huge number are diabetic) and the general (poor) nutrition levels may have helped turn an essentially harmless virus into a problem for small pockets of the population. From my perspective, I know no one who got sick, nor anyone who knew anyone who did (it turns out landlady's mother died of old lady flu, not piggy flu). This isn't surprising: Mexico city is massive and densely populated, and the total number of people reported to have died is fewer than live in my apartment building.
In my opinion, the whole thing got whooped out of proportion. It's just a flu...and normal, healthy people don't die of flu in developed countries. As for Mexico, more people die every winter from non-specific flus than died from H1N1, ditto people who die in car crashes or from getting caught up in the drug wars. Of all the things that could befall me in my life in Mexico, Swine Flu is probably the least likely.
Summary: Oink oink.