MONTEVIDEO – The increase in cases of AH1N1 flu virus in Uruguay sparked the first clashes between the government and the opposition, after Health Minister Maria Julia Muñoz accused the National Party, or PN, of promoting the suspension of activities for “political” ends, the local press said on Saturday.
The minister spoke in those terms after the Provincial Emergency Committee in Soriano, a Uruguayan town governed by the opposition National Party, decided to suspend all public entertainment and asked for an extension of school vacations to avoid possible outbreaks of the flu virus.
That measure, taken unilaterally without consulting the National Emergency Committee, was firmly rejected by health authorities, who shortly before had said that the state of the epidemic in Uruguay did not merit extraordinary measures, such as the suspension of movies and plays for the public.
Muñoz also criticized the PN candidate for the vice presidency, Jorge Larrañaga, who asked the government to extend school vacations to avoid further contagion from the virus.
“We don’t understand this pushing the educational authorities to stop classes,” Muñoz said, adding that “political” measures like those in Soriano were “not the thing to do,” and that “there is no scientific evidence” to justify suspending social activities or extending school vacations.
“We deeply regret the politicization of a subject that affects the population of Uruguay and the world. This has never happened in our country – politicizing a pandemic – but it has happened now to the misfortune of Uruguayans,” Muñoz said.
Yesterday health authorities confirmed nine deaths from the disease in the country, while repeating their call for people to remain calm.
The latest victim was a 9-month-old baby suffering from cerebral palsy who had been admitted to a hospital in Montevideo.
Meanwhile in neighboring Argentina, 82 people have died of the flu virus, according to official figures released Friday, while the number of people infected is estimated at approximately 100,000.
Because of the pandemic, Buenos Aires and most of Argentina’s 23 provinces have declared a health emergency, school classes have been suspended for a month, theaters decided to close for 10 days and public activities have been restricted nationwide.