Since the recent outbreak of this new flu, known first in Mexico as gripe (or gripa) porcina (swine flu) before being renamed influenza A H1N1, became the focus of every news media in the world, a psychosis has begun to develop around the world that has unfortunately also affected us here in Zihuatanejo where we depend on tourism. Extreme measures were first implemented in Mexico State and in Mexico City to try to contain the virus and prevent its spread, though apparently it had already spread to other regions and countries.
In Zihuatanejo, where to date no cases have been reported, some of the rather extreme measures and the psychosis that all the media coverage has generated have had a profoundly negative impact on our local economy and our livelihoods as well as our local culture. One of the rather extreme measures was the postponement this year of the XXVI Torneo de Pez Vela, an annual sportfishing tournament for sailfish, marlin and dorado in which vehicles are awarded to the winners. The event usually takes place on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday in May and attracts a good number of out-of-towners and foreigners as well as a high number of local participants, with usually between 150 to 200 entries each year. The new date for the tournament is tentatively set for May 29, 30 and 31, though the turnout is expected to be significantly lower.
Another rather extreme measure was the closure of our cinemas and enclosed restaurants and bars. While many of us don’t miss the drunks roaming the streets and scandalizing at all hours of the evenings, again, since there have been no cases reported locally, many of these local businesses are really taking a hit since this latest blow to our local economy comes on the heels of all the overblown reporting on narcoviolence in Mexico this year that had already cost us a significant amount of tourism. Local businesses have been hurting for months, and now this.
With all the bad news about one calamity after another, the 5.7 earthquake near San Marcos, Guerrero on April 27 almost went unnoticed and created an almost surreal apocalyptic atmosphere.
When the schools were closed nationwide last Tuesday until May 6 by federal order, almost immediately some tourists began arriving from the inland cities, including Mexico City. While the locals are somewhat concerned about the flu possibly arriving with the tourists, we are nevertheless grateful for their business. Which is why many of us believe the Secretario de Fomento Turístico del Estado de Guerrero (Sefotur), Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, should renounce or be fired from his position for declaring publicly the day before yesterday that people should not come to Guerrero. Apparently he was more concerned for his own hide than for anyone who lives and works here and depends on tourism. And it’s worth mentioning that when the discos and nightclubs in Acapulco were closed by their mayor earlier this week, two that remained open all night long anyway in an upscale area of Acapulco are owned by family members of Rodríguez Escalona. Personally I can’t think of any positive impact that person has had on Guerrero’s tourism.
Nationally and locally celebrations were cancelled for Día de los Niños yesterday, and today there was no parade for Día de los Trabajadores. Even some churches are cancelling mass or else holding them outdoors. All other local sporting events such as soccer, baseball and basketball have been cancelled. National soccer teams are playing in empty stadiums closed to the public. National baseball teams have postponed their games until further notice. Even Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa gave a nationwide address urging people to stay indoors and at home until May 6.
All of these measures have created a psychosis among people in Mexico as well as in other countries. People on vacation have been seen at the beach and in the water wearing surgical facemasks. People can even be seen driving alone in their vehicles wearing facemasks. The facemask phenomenon is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to use them in crowded and confined areas, but another altogether to wear them outdoors while away from people and crowds.
Some countries have cancelled flights to Mexico and have treated arriving Mexicans rather poorly. Nevertheless, Mexicans find it strange that those same countries have not cancelled flights to the USA or to other countries where the new flu has already spread.
But the most important thing to bear in mind is that this is only a new flu and it is completely curable, especially if treated within the first 48 hours. It really should be seen for what it is instead of what it isn’t. While it is important to raise awareness to the fact that it is a new strain of flu that may not be affected by current vaccines, and that people with flu symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, it is not a “killer plague” and there is no reason people should change their travel plans or treat Mexicans as pariahs. Thanks to the national awareness campaign, folks in Mexico with flu-like symptoms are now following the recommendations by public authorities to seek immediate medical attention, wear facemasks in public, wash their hands often, and stay at home until they are well. Hopefully the psychosis created in the news media will begin to wear off and people’s lives will return to normal and everyone will be able to open their businesses once again. The slow but steady arrival of tourists in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa this week is a positive sign for those of us who live and work here. And hopefully we will experience no new calamities this year and tourism will soon return to its normal levels.
Meanwhile, most of Zihuatanejo’s businesses are open and awaiting customers. There is virtually no waiting to be seated at restaurants. There are plenty of places on the beach to spread your towel and there are no crowds to deal with. Wandering troubadours everywhere are awaiting to serenade you. Fishing boats are ready to take you fishing. Tour guides are available for some terrific excursions. And with the possible exception of a bit of smoke in the mornings from all the fires that are common at this time of year as farmers clear fields in anticipation of the upcoming rainy season, it’s an ideal time to visit Zihuatanejo and miss all the crowds. ¡Te esperamos!