The number of “probable” deaths from swine flu rose in Mexico from 149 to 152, Mexico\’s health minister says, as more countries tighten security to tackle the disease.

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Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova also signaled for the first time that the epidemic may be abating: the number of suspected flu deaths had gone from six on Saturday to five on Sunday and to three on Monday, he said.

In giving the latest death toll, Cordova cautioned that the cause of the deaths had not been confirmed by the national health service, but that they could be taken as a reference point.

“We received reports of three more (deaths) today,” he said in an interview with Televisa.

So far, swine flu has been confirmed in 20 deaths, while the number of cases under observation in Mexico has reached 1,614.

Cordova said more rapid and effective laboratory tests would begin to be used starting Tuesday.

The swine flu outbreak in Mexico has ignited global fears with the World Health Organization warning of a “significant increase in the risk of a pandemic.”

“We\’re in the decisive moment of the crisis. The number (of deaths) will continue rising,” Cordova said earlier.

Despite measures to contain the virus and increasing warnings for visitors to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, Cordova insisted that Mexico could maintain business and tourist relations with the rest of the world.

As travelers returned from trips to Mexico, Europe\’s first cases were confirmed in Britain and Spain.

“All education activities across the country are suspended from next Tuesday to May 6,” Cordova said Monday. Schools in Mexico City, the heart of the epidemic, were already closed last Friday.

With the Mexican capital\’s zoos, museums, churches, courts and many restaurants already closed in the urban area of some 20 million, Mexico City sought to limit business activity too, despite an economy hard hit by the crisis and already suffering from the flu outbreak.

The moves were expected to be met with reluctance in a country already battered by the economic crisis.