Travelers are cancelling trips to Argentina over the swine flu pandemic, which has killed at least 137 people since June, making it the worst hit country after the United States (211 deaths).
Travel agents and airlines have reported a sharp drop in business amid concern that the death toll will continue to rise during the rest of the southern hemisphere’s winter.
An unfamiliar quiet has descended over some of Buenos Aires’s tourist quarters, with many restaurants and theatres closed or deserted. Ski resorts such as Bariloche, which are normally packed at this time, have rooms to spare. Hotels, restaurants, and shops said they were losing around US$150 million (£95m) weekly.
The vice president of Spain, Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega, has decided to bypass Argentina on a forthcoming South America tour, reportedly because of the A (H1N1) virus.
The Brazilian airline GOL cancelled some chartered flights to its neighbor after passengers numbers dropped by half. Brazil’s government has advised against travel to Argentina and Chile, also badly hit. Some travel agents have reported a 50 percent drop in travelers.
The British Foreign Office updated its travel advice to warn that Buenos Aires and 17 provinces had declared a health emergency. It does not urge Britons to stay away but is not exactly encouraging. “Medical facilities are good, but can be expensive.”
The authorities hope recent temporary restrictions will curb the epidemic. Schools, universities, cinemas, theatres, and gymnasiums were closed and pregnant women and children were among those urged to stay indoors. “Groups of people are dangerous, and that’s why we’re asking the sick not to go out,” Jorge Lemus, the health chief of Buenos Aires, told local radio.
The Catholic church urged worshippers to sit far apart, to avoid handshakes, and to take the communion wafer in their hands rather than directly on the tongue. Doctors urged people to not greet each other with a kiss and to not share mate, a herbal drink traditionally drunk from a straw and passed between friends.
The government said yesterday the worst may be over. The numbers reporting flu symptoms has reportedly halved in recent days. Theatres, which were shut for the past 10 days, said they would reopen this weekend but appealed to the sick to stay away. “The show can go on if we all take precautions and are responsible,” said Enrique Pinti, an actor and comedian.