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Death toll rises to 29 in Mexico; US reports second swine flu death

Mexico's health ministry raised the national death toll Tuesday to 29, three cases more than the previous day's count. The flu scare has so far caused an estimated loss of around $2.3 billion, or "close to 0.3 percent" of GDP.

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AFP - Mexico was counting the cost of swine flu as it prepared Wednesday to gradually reopen businesses and schools shuttered by an epidemic now said to be under control after killing 29 people nationwide.

Finance Minister Agustin Carstens told reporters the shutdown and the devastation to the tourism industry caused a loss of around 2.3 billion dollars, or "close to 0.3 percent" of gross domestic product.

The government planned to roll out a fiscal stimulus package to mitigate the damage, he said.

It would include a 1.3-billion-dollar injection into the economy, a marketing campaign to lure back tourists and 380 million dollars in credits for companies and subsidies.

Mexico's health ministry late Tuesday raised the national death toll from the previous day to 29, counting three more cases.

It said there were also 913 cases of infected patients who survived the disease. Despite the high tally, it said the epidemic had peaked last week and was now waning.

Authorities were to begin Wednesday allowing restaurants and shops to reopen following a sanitization operation. They had been closed for a week in an effort to curb the spread of the A(H1N1) virus.

"We've washed and disinfected everything: the walls, the plates, the glasses, the tables and the chairs," said Lourdes Ramirez, a waitress at a trendy Mexico City restaurant.

High schools and universities were also to begin classes starting Thursday, while primary schools would resume lessons next week.

But cinemas, theaters and nightclubs remained closed until further notice.

President Felipe Calderon said the world should thank Mexico -- the epicenter of the epidemic that has spread to more than 20 other countries -- for its response to the new strain of flu as soon as it was confirmed.

"The frontline of the battle was Mexico, and we defended all of humanity from the propagation of this new virus," he told national television.

While the United States reported its second death from the swine flu -- a Texas woman who officials said suffered from other chronic health problems before succumbing -- Mexicans welcomed the news that their nightmare appeared to be over.

"It's a relief because we've had enough of being stuck at home all day," said teacher Ana Maria Rodrigo, 40, who, like millions of others spent a five-day holiday weekend cooped up inside.

It was clear, though, that it would take some time before the country's tourist industry -- which accounts for eight percent of economic output and a significant portion of foreign revenues -- recovers.

Hotels in Mexico City were down to 10 percent occupancy, and foreign visitors were absent from the city center and from tourist draws, such as Mexico's famed Aztec pyramids, which were declared off-limits.

While only China -- the origin of the 2003 SARS epidemic -- and a handful of Latin American countries have cut travel ties, several airlines, tour companies and cruise lines around the world have suspended or limited operations to Mexico.

Relations between Mexico and China turned frosty when 70 Mexicans, most without flu symptoms, were placed under quarantine in China after one Mexican there was confirmed to have been infected.

The Mexican and Chinese governments chartered jets that on Tuesday picked up nationals from each other's country, including many of the Mexicans who had been confined.
 

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