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Passengers wear protective masks to ride Mexico's city subway on Tuesday. ((Daniel Aguila/Reuters))

As the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that more serious cases of swine flu, including deaths, are likely, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California on Tuesday.

"I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection," said Richard Besser, acting director of the Atlanta-based CDC.

No country outside Mexico has yet seen severe disease or death caused by the new strain of influenza virus.

In California, the move by Schwarzenegger gives his government access to additional funds.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama called for $2 billion US to fight the spread of the virus that causes swine flu Tuesday, as Cuba became the first country to suspend air travel to Mexico, where the virus is thought to have originated.

In a letter sent to Congress, Obama said an additional $1.8 billion will help fund a plan to build drug stockpiles and monitor future cases of the disease, which has been linked to dozens of deaths in Mexico. He said the money will also help international efforts to battle the flu.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs, who read the letter to reporters, said the flu outbreak requires "prudent planning" and not panic.

Information contacts

The Canadian government has set up a hotline and websites for information about the swine flu virus. The number is 1-800-454-8302, and the websites are fightflu.cavoyage.gc.ca and phac.gc.ca.

Obama's request came as Cuba's communist government announced it would suspend all flights to and from Mexico for a 48-hour period, adding it is willing to take further steps to restrict travel to the country if necessary. There are no reported cases of the flu in Cuba.

In an update Tuesday, the World Health Organization said laboratory tests have confirmed only 79 human cases of swine flu around the world. But Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director general, said agency officials have been struggling to keep up with media reports from around the world on new confirmed cases of the disease.

Fukuda said the UN health agency waits until receiving reports of confirmation from individual countries before it adjusts its tally on the outbreak.

"The specific numbers can be a little bit hard to keep track of, and certainly we see different numbers reported at different times," Fukuda told reporters in a video teleconference from Geneva.

He said the WHO still cannot offer any explanation why cases of the infection in Mexico have appeared more severe than in other countries. He also advised countries to "take the opportunity to prepare for a pandemic."

New cases in U.S.

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A woman wears a mask as she arrives at Trudeau airport in Montreal on a flight from Mexico City on Monday. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Late Tuesday, authorities in Mexico said the number of suspected swine flu cases had risen to 2,498, with 159 suspected deaths and 26 confirmed deaths.

In Canada, health officials had confirmed 13 cases in Canada, including Ontario, Alberta and B.C. and  N.S.

Less than an hour after Fukuda spoke, the CDC said on its website that 64 cases of swine flu have now been confirmed in the United States. Three cases have also been confirmed in Europe — two in Scotland and one in Spain.

On Tuesday, New Zealand confirmed 11 human cases of swine flu, making it the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. Israeli health officials also confirmed two cases of human swine flu in two men who recently returned from Mexico.

In other developments Tuesday:

  • New York City health officials say "many hundreds" of students at a school already linked to swine flu are sick; not all the students have been confirmed to have the virus.
  • Two more people in New York City have been hospitalized with suspected cases.
  • California has confirmed 13 cases and is investigating one death possibly related to swine flu.
  • Michigan has one suspected case.
  • New Jersey has five suspected cases.

Travel warnings issued

The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a travel warning late Monday advising Canadians to postpone any non-essential travel to Mexico until further notice. The agency urged travellers to take precautionary measures such as getting a flu shot, frequently washing their hands, and covering coughs and sneezes.

The United States issued a similar warning earlier Monday, suggesting "non-essential travel to Mexico be avoided."

The warnings come despite WHO officials advising against travel restrictions or border closures. The WHO says such restrictions will not stop the spread of the virus, and have instead called on countries to boost domestic efforts to contain the spread of the illness.

WHO spokeswoman Sylvie Briand told CBC News on Tuesday the health agency supports governments providing information to travellers about the risks of going to a country where the virus is circulating.

"What we don’t support is to ban travel … because we think it will not have an impact on the spread of the disease itself," Briand said in an interview from Geneva.

The European Union's health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, also said Tuesday she sees no reason to impose travel restrictions.

Mexico economy losing millions

The food agency of the United Nations, meanwhile, said Tuesday it would send some of its animal health experts to Mexico to verify if the virus is directly linked to pigs.

In a statement, the Food and Agriculture Organization said the evidence that the new strain entered the human population directly from pigs "has not been established.

"There is no evidence of a threat to the food chain; at this stage, it is a human crisis and not an animal crisis, but we have to be alerted and prepared," said FAO chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech.

In Mexico City on Tuesday, officials ordered restaurants to serve only take-out food as part of the city's widening swine flu shutdown. Residents of the sprawling capital have already been advised not to congregate in public and schools, bars, movie theatres and sports stadiums have been shut until at least May 6.

Mexico City's chamber of commerce estimated swine flu-related closures are costing the city's economy close to $70 million per day. Arturo Mendicuti, president of the city's Chamber of Trade, Services and Tourism, says the figure represents a 36 per cent drop in revenue generated by tourism and services in the Mexican capital.

On Monday, the WHO raised its global pandemic alert to Level 4 from Level 3, signalling the global health body feels the virus causing the swine flu outbreak can easily transmit between people.

With files from The Canadian Press