MEXICO CITY — Mexico announced a return to "normalcy" on Monday, preparing to reopen businesses and schools even as the virus sickened more than 1,400 people in 20 countries.
World health officials said that the global epidemic is still in its early stages and that a pandemic could be declared in the days to come. But Mexico's president said it was waning at its epicenter, justifying Wednesday's end to a five-day nationwide shutdown he credits for reducing the spread of the new virus.
Already Monday, streets in the capital were livelier, with more vehicles and fewer people wearing face masks. Some cafes reopened ahead of time. President Felipe Calderon said universities and high schools will reopen on Thursday, and younger schoolchildren were to report back to school on May 11.
But Mexico canceled its biggest celebration of the Cinco de Mayo holiday today. And experts at Mexico's swine flu crisis center warned that the virus remains active throughout Mexico and could bounce back once millions return to work and school.
Several theories have emerged as to why all but one of the 27 confirmed deaths from swine flu have occurred in Mexico. Much of it is speculation — that Mexico City's 8,000-foot elevation exacerbates respiratory illnesses, that there may be a slight variation between the viral strain prevalent in Mexico and swine flu elsewhere, that Mexico is further along in disease transmission and other countries will eventually see severe cases.
But a critical factor, according to specialists in Mexico City, is that flu victims have delayed checking into hospitals until their condition has deteriorated so much they cannot be saved.
"In Mexico, we are very unaccustomed to going to the hospital. Here, if someone has a cold or anything else, they buy something in the pharmacy, or they leave it be," said Dr. Angel Flores Maldonado.
Globally, the World Health Organization was studying whether to raise the pandemic alert to 6, its highest level, which would mean a global outbreak has begun. The WHO urged governments to avoid unproven actions to contain the disease, including group quarantines of travelers from Mexico. Mexico said it would fly its citizens quarantined in China home on a chartered flight today.