BUENOS AIRES -- Argentine health authorities said Saturday that next week a "health emergency" could be declared nationwide because of the progress of the AH1N1 flu virus, which up to now has taken 26 lives and has infected 1,587 people.
"The emergency does not mean we're closing everything down, the emergency is a frame of reference for having medicines ready for direct purchase and mobilizing health personnel," said Claudio Zin, health minister in Buenos Aires province where the greatest number of deaths and infections have been recorded.
Zin said that this alert, which doctors' organizations have requested for days, "is a frame of reference for taking quick decisions" to combat the illness.
"It doesn't mean we're going to close schools and shopping malls and suspend transport on the metro," because "that's not the point," he said.
A different approach from that taken in Mexico City where, at the height of the epidemic, leisure and entertainment locations were shuttered along with part of the capital's 35,000 restaurants.
Schools were closed nationwide for 10 days and normally bustling Mexico City became a ghost town as people were urged to stay home to halt the spread of the illness.
The Buenos Aires health minister has, however, confirmed comments by members of the "crisis committee" created by the Argentine government to deal with the new flu virus, who say that the possibility of declaring a national emergency next week after this Sunday's legislative elections is being considered.
In "areas at risk" of contagion, "alcohol in gel and pads" are being distributed for wetting the finger used for sticking shut vote envelopes without using saliva, election official Alejandro Tullio said Friday.
To the prevention measures that authorities are recommending to the public, Tullio added that voters ought to "keep their distance one from the other in case people line up to vote and they should go to the polls early to avoid the crowds."
Health organizations said that the number of people infected in the country "is substantially greater" that the official toll and that hospitals are "verging on collapse."
The total number of deaths in Argentina from the swine-flu virus reached 26 on Friday, when three new fatalities were confirmed along with 99 new cases of the illness, raising the total to 1,587.
The Health Ministry said in a communique that under study are specimens from 967 people suspected of having caught the AH1N1 flu virus.Argentina Swine-Flu Deaths Rise to 23
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