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2.51pm:

The Mexican government says it will suspend all nonessential activity of the federal government and private business from May 1-5. Essential services like transport, supermarkets, trash collection and hospitals will remain open.

Barack Obama says he won't close his country's border with Mexico because the virus is already present in the United States.

1.49pm:

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New Zealand's Catholic bishops have issued hygiene recommendations for church services in preparation for a swine flu pandemic.

The bishops are stopping parishioners receiving communion wafers on the tongue, communion wine from the chalice and from shaking hands at the sign of peace at masses in New Zealand.

In a statement, the bishops, who are meeting in Palmerston North, said they hoped they would not have to take stronger action, and reinforced the need for priests and other clergy working for the church to practise good hygiene procedures.

12.37pm:

Health authorities are working on setting up a specialised influenza assessment centre outside of Auckland's international airport.

The centre would provide space and facilities for those entering the country with flu symptoms to be checked out in isolation.

Director-General of Health Stephen told media today discussions were taking place over the establishment of a community-based influenza assessment centre in the Auckland region.

A decision was likely over the next 24-hours on a preferred site for such a centre.

"Middlemore (hospital) is obviously in much closer vicinity to the airport and has available clinical space," he said.

Health staff at the centre would undertake clinical assessments away from the airport and in relative isolation.

"We will also have conversations with chairs (of DHBs) and CEOs across the rest of the country, alerting them to thinking about and planning for perhaps the development of more community-based assessment centres..."

The centres might need to be brought into play as the swine flu situation evolved, he said.

11.53am:

Australia's pandemic preparedness plan in response to the global swine flu outbreak is already in full swing, the federal government says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on today raised its flu alert level to phase five out of six, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent".

WHO Director General Margaret Chan called on all countries to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans.

Following the announcement, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said Australia had already done so.

"We are ahead of the game, if you like, in those situations," she told ABC Radio.

Cabin crews were making announcements on all incoming flights to Australia requesting people with flu-like symptoms to identify themselves and health declaration cards must now be completed at border entry points.

Ms Roxon said the government had also rolled out a series of public health advertisements regarding the potentially deadly virus in local print media, and thermal scanners had been deployed to airports around the nation but would not be used until recommended by the nation's chief medical officer.

11.34am:

The number of suspected cases of swine flu in New Zealand has risen to 104.

"The growth in suspect numbers is primarily from close family contacts from passengers on flights," Health Minister Tony Ryall told a press conference today.

There are 13 confirmed cases of swine flu in New Zealand, all in the Auckland area.

That is a decrease of one on yesterday as one recent arrival in Auckland had come from Samoa and not from Los Angeles as first thought.

"As you know we are working hard to identify people potentially with swine flu so we can provide them with treatment and support and limit the spread of the flu," Mr Ryall told reporters.

10.16am:

The owners of street-side food stalls in Mexico City are feeling the financial effects of the swine flu outbreak after city authorities ordered all such carts to

.

"What are we going to do to survive? The government is closing everything," taco-maker Jose Antonio Morales, 52, said yesterday.

Even before the shutdown order, the epidemic was taking a major toll on business.

On Monday, on traffic-clogged Fray Servando street, 40-year-old Cristina Ramirez sat beside a sizzling plate of oil and a stack of tortillas in her stand offering quesadillas and gorditas - small, thick tortillas stuffed with meat and cooked in a skillet.

Of the seven food stands on her block, five were closed. She had just one customer.

"Everybody's afraid of other people. They want to eat alone," Ramirez muttered.

9.07am:

Pharmacists say allowing Tamiflu to be sold over-the-counter in New Zealand will undermine efforts to control the spread of swine flu.

From tomorrow, Tamiflu will be

without prescription, if a pharmacist considers the person is sufficiently ill.

But there are industry concerns that private sales run contrary to Ministry of Health advice on pandemic planning.

Under that advice, people who fear they have a serious illness are told to stay at home.

"It seems quite contradictory that we are trying to prevent the spread of the infection, and we have to have face-to-face consultations," a Wellington pharmacist told NZPA.

"Every pharmacist I've spoken to says this is ridiculous."

8.54am:

Twenty-six New Zealanders are due to leave for Mexico in the next ten days, despite warnings from the Ministry of Health to stay away from the country, which is dealing with fatal cases of swine flu.

Brent Thomas from House of Travel says so far just one customer has changed their travel plans, but he says it is not too late to take another look at their itineraries.

"Now that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised its advisory on going to Mexico, people can come in and have conversations around amending those trips to Mexico, perhaps looking to extend their stay within the States, going to places like Vegas," he said.

Mr Thomas says at the outbreak of swine flu, the House of Travel had about 100 clients in Mexico.

8.28am:

The World Health Organisation has raised its pandemic alert for swine flu to the second highest level, meaning that it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent.

The WHO says the

means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.

The WHO has confirmed human cases of swine flu in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand and Spain. Mexico and the US have reported deaths.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan made the decision to raise the alert level from phase 4 - signifying transmission in only one country - after reviewing the latest scientific evidence on the outbreak.

8.09am:

The final race of the A1 GP series in Mexico has been

, Reuters reported yesterday.

The race had been scheduled for May 22-24 in Mexico City.

"To say we are disappointed to have to make this call is an understatement," A1 GP chairman Tony Teixeira said.

"We must have the safety of all members of the A1 GP community, as well as the thousands of loyal fans in Mexico City as our prime concern."

8.06am:

Maori in particular are being urged to keep a check on flu symptoms.

Maori Party co-leader and Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia says with the swine flu outbreak and winter on its way, it is now, more than ever, time to be cautious.

Mrs Turia says the 1918 flu epidemic killed five times more Maori than Europeans and Maori need to balance cultural responsibilities with commonsense.

She says if unwell, people must think twice about attending hui, or going to venues where their symptoms can be shared with others.

7.10am:

The Ministry of Health says it is unlikely to get a result from the fourth flu sample sent to the WHO laboratory in Melbourne.

Genetic material in the sample was not of sufficient quality to obtain a meaningful result, the ministry said.

Four influenza A samples from Rangitoto College students who returned from Mexico last Saturday were sent to Melbourne, with three testing positive for swine flu.

That meant all those in the group were deemed to have contracted swine flu, which has been blamed for more than 150 deaths in Mexico.

The Government yesterday took steps that make swine flu a notifiable disease.

Following an update overnight, the number of swine flu cases here - all in the Auckland area - had reduced from 14 to 13.

One passenger who arrived in Auckland recently with flu symptoms had done so from Samoa, as opposed to Los Angeles as first advised.

There were now

of swine flu, which included those who had returned from Mexico within the last seven days and developed symptoms.

They have all been tested for influenza A and will be tested for swine flu if those tests are positive. They are also being treated and have either recovered or are on the mend.

6.44am:

Cases of swine flu in New Zealand will now have to be reported to public health officials.

The Government has passed an Order in Council, making the virus a notifiable disease.

Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Fran McGrath says it gives medical officers of health practical powers to protect the community if someone is not willing to cooperate.

Key updates so far:

Deaths:

159 in Mexico, seven confirmed as swine flu and rest suspected. One confirmed in the US, a 23-month-old boy from Mexico who died in Texas.

Sick people:

2,498 suspected and 19 confirmed in Mexico.

Confirmed elsewhere:

at least 93 in the US; 16 in Canada; 14 in New Zealand; five in Britain; three in Germany; 10 in Spain; two in Israel; and one in Austria.

US cases confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state officials:

51 in New York, 14 in California, 16 in Texas, three in Maine; two in Kansas, two in Massachusetts, and one each in Indiana, Ohio, Arizona and Nevada. The CDC also said Michigan had two, but state officials said only one was confirmed.

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The World Health Organisation raises its pandemic alert to the second highest level, meaning it believes a global outbreak of the disease is imminent.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry issues a disaster declaration, and the state suspends all high school sports competitions until May 11.

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Some schools closed in Illinois, New York City, Texas, California, South Carolina, Connecticut, Minnesota and Ohio. Texas closings affected 53,000 students. Mexico suspends all schools until May 6.

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The US Food and Drug Administration issues emergency guidance allowing certain antiviral drugs to be used in a broader range of the population if needed. A Public health emergency is declared and roughly 12 million doses of Tamiflu from the federal stockpile is to be delivered to states.

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Cuba bans flights from Mexico; Argentina suspends flights from Mexico; the US, European Union, and other countries discourage non-essential travel there. Travellers arriving from Mexico are being questioned. Cruise lines are avoiding Mexico's ports.

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Two leading US makers of respiratory masks are ramping up production to keep heavy demand from pharmacies.

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Mexico City hands out surgical masks, closes public venues and cancels public events. The president assumes new powers to isolate infected people. The World Bank is loaning Mexico more than US$200 million.

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Egypt begins slaughtering the nation's roughly 300,000 pigs as precaution.

- NZPA, AP, NEWSTALK ZB, NZ HERALD STAFF, AAP