posted on Jul, 10 2009 @ 08:04 PM
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Millions of Argentines stayed home from work, churches in Bolivia canceled Mass and Ecuador announced its first
fatalities from swine flu on Friday, as the virus continues its spread during the South American winter season.
Businesses including banks, exchange houses, courts and even the stock exchange were shuttered for 24 hours across Argentina. Combined with
Thursday's Independence Day holiday, Argentines effectively got a four-day weekend during which many stayed home and avoided contact with
President Cristina Fernandez decreed a day off for federal public employees, and a number of regional governments also observed the break —
including Buenos Aires province, home to nearly two-fifths of the country's population.
The goal was to "avoid public gatherings," provincial Health Minister Claudio Zin said, and lessen the person-to-person spread of the virus blamed
for 86 deaths so far in the country. At least 2,677 cases of swine flu have been confirmed.
The government has already doubled the winter vacation to a month for schools, sent pregnant women and other vulnerable workers home for 15 days and
urged people to avoid crowds whenever possible.
But not everyone agrees on what measures are necessary.
Some cities shut all cinemas, others halted all public events and at least one ordered restaurants to leave a 3-yard (2.5-meter) space between tables.
The government has not banned all large gatherings, saying such a drastic measure is not necessary.
Argentina has more confirmed swine flu deaths than any nation on the continent and trails only the U.S. and Mexico worldwide.
The virus has been found across South America, however, and neighboring Chile has reported far more cases of people sickened: more than 9,000
Ecuador became the latest to confirm fatalities from swine flu within its borders on Friday, with Health Minister Caroline Chang saying the virus was
found in a 28-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man, both of whom died this week in the Andean nation's highlands.
The Bolivian Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, canceled all non-Sunday Masses.
In the eastern city of Santa Cruz, home to more than two-thirds of the country's swine flu caseload, the diocese recommended that worshippers avoid
church altogether and instead tune in to radio and TV broadcasts of Mass.
Bolivian authorities have suspended a number of public events including concerts by Puerto Rican reggaeton star Daddy Yankee planned for three cities.
The government also approved a second extension of students' winter holiday, until July 20.
Peru, which on Friday announced the country's fourth fatality from the virus — a 27-year-old woman — has said that winter break for students will
start a week early, because of fears that schools could serve as an incubator for the disease. The country has 1,580 confirmed swine flu cases.
In Uruguay on Friday, health officials confirmed nine fatalities from swine flu.