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An uneasy recovery for Mexico after flu

Mexico City's Mayor Marcelo Ebrard cleans a bus handrail as part of the cleaning campaign of public transportation in Mexico City to avoid the swine flu from spreading.

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Kai Ryssdal: Today though is Cinco de Mayo. It's a Mexican holiday that commemorates the 1862 victory over French troops at the battle of Puebla. Translated north of the border, it means a lot of people in this country are going to be eating guacamole and drinking margaritas or Mexican beer today.

In Mexico though there won't be any public celebrations due to the swine-flu outbreak. But tomorrow the government is going to let businesses and restaurants reopen, although it won't quite be business as usual. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech reports.


DAN GRECH: Mexico City's Cafe Tacuba is getting ready to reopen tomorrow. A crew is scrubbing the walls and floors. Fresh food has begun to arrive. But accountant Magdalena Flores says Wednesday will not be business as usual. Though restaurants can reopen, the government has imposed strict measures on employees to contain the swine flu.

MAGDALENA FLORES: The waitress and the people in the restaurant must use face masks. We have to use latex gloves. And the distance between the tables must be more than two meters.

That's more than six feet between tables. Flores says that measure cuts the restaurant's 150-person capacity by half.

FLORES: It's a 50 percent reopening. We don't need all the employees, we don't need all the resources to attend the few people we are expecting.

Officials say the flu outbreak has already cost Mexico's economy more than $2 billion, up to half a percent of GDP. That's a huge hit to a country already struggling with declining exports, reduced oil income and a drug war at the border. Yet it could have been much worse. Lee Tablewski directs Project Mexico at the Institute of the Americas.

LEE TABLEWSKI: Mexico's government dealt with the crisis in an amazingly effective way. They've shown that their government can mobilize under some challenging circumstances. And I think Mexico has dodged a bullet here and will see a recovery.

The Mexican government has pledged $1.3 billion to jump start small businesses and tourism. Guy Santoro could use the help. He is executive chef of the Hotel Intercontinental Presidente in Mexico City. The hotel's seven restaurants normally bring in $3 million dollars a month. But April was down by 60 percent, and May is looking grim.

Santoro says he's being pressured by the hotel owners to cut costs and spending. He says that means a complete reorganization of the kitchens. And it means some of his 400 employees will have to be let go.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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