May 1, 2009

Despite the Swine Flu Epidemic Little has Changed at the Border

By Mariana Martinez

While the numbers of those affected or killed by the swine flu are changing faster than basketball scoreboard, authorities from Mexico and the US are racing to create measures that will contain the spread of the deadly virus, which has already claimed the lives of over 150 people in Mexico and at least one toddler in Texas.

But the border, —always difficult to handle—, has seen little change in policies, screenings or public health surveillance measures, leaving citizens of both countries wondering once again, exactly who is in charge of protecting such a susceaptible area.

School is out in Mexico until late next week, Cruise lines and airlines have stopped their trips to the Mexican Caribbean, and ample screening is done at airports and bus terminals across the world.

But at the Mexico-US border, little has changed due to the swine flu.

Taco vendors recite their exquisite flavors to incite the drivers to have a little something while waiting, “asada, chicharron, chorizo con papas,” the dollar-boys roam around cars hoping for a sale and candy selling kids approach the cars, as always.

At the San Ysidro Port of Entry, few street vendors and pedestrians are seen wearing facemasks, and until April 29th, there where no doctors or health officials screening travelers going in or out of Mexico.

Rick and Anna Barley walk worry-free across the pedestrian bridge going to Tijuana to spend the day. They hug and kiss while approaching the iron gates that will take them to the yellow taxis.

“…We don’t know anything about it, we just found that out… we’re gonna go make some bets at Caliente,” Rick says.

Dr. Maria Teresa Cerqueira, Chief of the US/Mexico Border Office of the Pan American Health Organization, admits authorities are worried, because of several swine flu cases in San Diego, deadly cases in Mex-icali, San Antonio Texas, and other border towns.

“What’s worrisome is that obviously the border is very fluid, there’s a lot of communication on both sides and with Mexico City, so we have to be vigilant.”

About measures at the border, Cerqueira explains there are already measures put in place to be checking people, especially those coming from Mexico City.

“There’s training already in place for immigration officers to take those kinds of precautions” she adds.

But no observable changes have been put in place at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, despite the fact it is still the busiest land port in the world, with a daily flow of at least 74 thousand people, rivaling that of the Mexico City Airport.

Local and state officials are installing health posts in major public spaces all over Tijuana and San Diego.

The streets, movie theaters and restaurants are less crowded than usual.

Baja California governor José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, explains the border has not been part of the local contingency plan, because it is federally managed and decisions have not been made to restrict or close international border access.

“In that regard, we ask for the help from the media, because it is very hard for us to stop each and every visitor”, he explains.

Lucia Velázquez, a Tijuana resident who crosses to San Diego at least three times a week finds this lack of precaution both odd and disturbing.

“When it comes to the border I see no precaution being taken,” Velazquez explains, “I’ve crossed the border walking and immigration officials don’t ask anything, they don’t even have masks or anything like that…”.

Return to the Frontpage