V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Mexico City a 'ghost town'

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, April, 2009.

Canadian expat Tom Mulholland has stocked the pantry in his Mexico City home full of canned goods, pasta and jugs of water.

Surgical masks are in short supply but the engineer has half a case that should last his family and employees for a week.

Toronto-native and transplant John Gardner has canceled business luncheon meetings and shuttered his family in their Mexican home, shunning the beautiful weather and public gatherings. And Ottawa-native and teacher recruiter Guy Courchesne, meanwhile, is working in an empty building after the government closed all schools and universities until May 6.

Canadians living in the epicentre of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico City say that while international media coverage of the infectious disease is swirling in gale force-strength winds, the eye of the storm is uneasy but quiet.

"I would think the appropriate term is concern," said Gardner, an insurance broker who's been living in the city for the past 15 years with his wife and two daughters. "But the mood isn't gloomy, people are still going about their daily lives. There's nothing that resembles panic."

The city of 20 million, normally a teeming metropolis of unavoidable human contact, has entered a state of walking hibernation, expats say, with less people on the streets and less cars on the road.

In a suburb just north of the city, Mississauga native Mulholland's only non-work related outing was a trip to Walmart, where likeminded locals congregated to stock up on supplies in case the government-wide shutdown extends to grocery stores and shops. Mulholland and his wife donned masks before leaving the house, wiped the carts down and washed their hands frequently pre- and post-trip.

"Everywhere else was a ghost town except for the Walmart," he said. "Carts were full of water, canned goods and fruit juices."

Surgical masks and hand sanitizers are also hot commodities, with unscrupulous hawkers selling the hottest street accessory for up to 25 times the price.

The cultural rite of greeting women with a handshake and kiss, and giving a brief but firm hug to male friends and colleagues has been replaced with curt nods and steady gazes, Mulholland added.

"At first you put your hand out, catch yourself and pull back," said the seven-year transplant. "You can see that it pains Mexicans not to be able to shake people's hands."

But it's also why the virus is spreading so quickly and the infection so strong, Mulholland surmises.

Meanwhile, Toronto couple Brad Mills and his wife Nallely Eguia have been forced to delay their move to Mexico City where they were to join her side of the family. The trip had been a year in the making and scheduled for June. But with a 15-month-old infant, the couple have put everything on hold.

"We just don't want to walk into that right now," Mills, 28, said. "We're waiting for the storm to end and wait and see."

Bringing a child into the crisis is also a concern for Courchesne, whose girlfriend, Kingston-native Kristen Dixie, is eight months pregnant.

"She's just trying to stay at home and wear masks," he said. "We just have to stay cautious."

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