Mexico declares war on neckties

May 4, 2009

Mexicans can start to relax a bit now that the country’s deadly flu virus appears to be under control. But the country’s health minister said on Sunday his countrymen shouldn’t loosen their neckties, they should take them off altogether.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova (pictured above with President Felipe Calderon last week; Calderon is the one wearing a tie) was visibly relieved by new data showing a decline in the number of people severely ill with the new H1N1 flu virus. He ranted lightheartedly about germ-filled ties and bottom-pinching theater seats on Sunday as he issued new health safety guidelines for Mexicans preparing to return to work and school after a five-day shutdown.

Citizens must continue to avoid physical contact, wash hands frequently and say goodbye to the tie, Cordova said.

“There is even a guideline — and this is why you haven’t seen us wearing ties — it’s because the tie can harbor germs. We tend not to wash ties as often as other clothing and so all the microbes fall onto your tie when you sneeze and then we your ties falls into the soup and all over the place,” he said.

The moment of comic relief contrasted with the grave tone adopted at his previous, twice-daily press conferences to update reporters on the death toll from the new strain that has spread to 20 countries and infected just over 1,000 people worldwide.

Mexicans have been forced to change their customs during the epidemic, to avoid spreading infection. The kiss on the check is out, rubbing elbows is in. The face mask has become a politically correct fashion statement, even if just left dangling around the neck. And bottles of antiseptic hand-washing gel are all ubiquitous.

Journalists attending the minister’s press conferences dutifully hold out their hands so that security guards can administer a squirt of gel, a prerequisite for entry.

Restaurants, movie theaters, schools and businesses have all been closed and are likely to reopen on Wednesday. But authorities don’t want Mexicans getting too close to each other just yet.

“The guidelines recommend that there be a minimum of two meters (six feet) between one person and another,” Cordova said.

“For example in restaurants there should be unoccupied tables and distance between the diners. And the movie theaters might open but people won’t be able to sit together,” he said. “There should be one person every four or five seats. Well, it depends on the size of the seats because sometimes you can’t even fit in one,” he complained.

How seriously are Mexicans taking it all? Many are skeptical of the politicians when it comes to explanations for the flu outbreak. But on the need to permanently change personal hygiene habits, its hard to argue.
“It would be great if we could keep this up forever, ” said Rodrigo Valdez, a taxi driver donning a mask and latex gloves but no tie.

“This might be the one good thing to come out of all this.”

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