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Tour operators halt flights to Mexico as flu spreads

Canadian tour operators have stopped all flights to Mexico for at least a month and are rescheduling vacations for thousands of people as the number of flu cases increases in Canada.

Montreal-based Transat said that because of the "appearance of swine flu" in Mexico, it was immediately suspending its flights from Canada and France.

The last of Transat's regular flights, returning the last of its 5,000 Canadian clients who were in Mexico, is scheduled for today.

The decision will result in Transat suspending more than 70 flights this month, said spokesman Jean-Michel Laberge.

Air Canada Vacations, Sunwing Travel Group and Sunquest Vacations also ended service to Mexico but hoped to resume flights by mid June.

WestJet plans to halt its Mexican flights on Monday, but Air Canada, separate from its vacation package division, is maintaining its regular daily service to Mexico City, based on demand.

Vacationers with Mexico trips planned are being offered the choice of other destinations such as Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Florida.

There were 35 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada as of Friday, all described as being mild with no deaths and involving people who recently were in Mexico.

A stake in Chrysler

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he isn't comfortable having the government buying into the auto industry, as Canada and Ontario invested $3.2 billion (U.S.) in insolvent Chrysler.

"This is not a perfect decision but far better than the alternatives and it will ensure a viable Chrysler and ultimately be part of a viable auto sector coming out of the recession, which Canada must have," he said.

Chrysler's restructuring plan gives Canada and the province of Ontario a 2 percent equity stake in the company while the U.S. government will own 8 percent.

This means that Chrysler's plants employing more than 8,000 workers in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario, will stay open.

Ontario's investment totals $1.02 billion (U.S.), with the aid giving the Canadian plants "a new lease on life," said Premier Dalton McGuinty.

News in brief

• Prime Minister Harper left his house on Thursday morning to discover his front lawn covered by a flock of 50 plastic pink flamingos. As well, two of his staff members were there to greet him, singing "Happy Birthday, Prime Minister." Harper posed with his daughter Rachel for the colorful 50th birthday photo opportunity and then it was off to work.

• Debt-plagued Canwest Global Communications will stop printing the Monday edition of the National Post for nine weeks starting June 29 to cut costs. The Toronto-based newspaper will still publish a digital edition. Money woes have also led to the demise of the St. John's (Newfoundland) Telegram's Sunday edition and the closing of the Halifax Daily News.

• Police are offering a $41,000 (U.S.) reward to find Victoria "Tori" Stafford, 8, who has been missing from Woodstock, Ontario, since April 8. She was last seen on video footage as she walked away from school with an unknown woman. Her mother, Tara McDonald, said an unidentified stranger is also offering to pay any amount of ransom for Tori's return.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar has advanced to 84.41 U.S. cents while the U.S. greenback returns $1.1848 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada key interest rate is 0.25 percent and the prime lending rate is 2.25 percent.

Canadian stock markets were higher, with Toronto's composite index at 9,507 points and the TSX Venture index 1007 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 8, 20, 22, 29, 33 and 49; bonus 48. (April 25) 1, 11, 17, 29, 31 and 46; bonus 35. Super 7: (April 24) 5, 6, 17, 21, 33, 40 and 41; bonus 1.

Regional briefs

• An intense brush fire on the outskirts of Halifax damaged about 20 houses as 100 firefighters and water bombers managed on Friday to contain flames whipped up by strong, shifting winds. There were no injuries. About 1,200 people were forced to leave their homes in the Spryfield area.

• The socialist New Democrats have narrowed the lead of British Columbia's Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell, which is seeking re-election on May 12. Polls show the Liberals have 42 percent support, the New Democrats 39 percent and the Green Party 13 percent.

• Calgary transit bus driver Dawn Hagel picked up an unexpected passenger on Tuesday: Duke, a young Australian cattle dog. Hagel saved Duke from two menacing coyotes he had chased while on a morning walk with owner Hugh Magill. Hagel steered her bus toward the circling coyotes, causing them to run away and opened the door for Duke to scurry to safety. "They were after the dog — the dog was breakfast," she said.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Tour operators halt flights to Mexico as flu spreads 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 9:06pm]
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