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Biden would avoid subways, planes after swine flu outbreak

Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not recommend taking any commercial flight or riding in a subway car “at this point” because swine flu virus can spread “in confined places.” A little more than one hour later, Biden rushed out a statement backing off.

The POLITICO logo is seen in this handout photo. REUTERS/HANDOUT

“I would tell members of my family - and I have - I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show.. “It’s not that it’s going to Mexico. It’s you’re in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me. …

“So, from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you’re out in the middle of a field when someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”

That contradicted more restrained advice from President Barack Obama and the federal government - and the last thing the White House wants to do right now is shut down the airline industry and big city subways out of mass panic.

The White House quickly arranged for Biden to make this statement through a spokesperson.

“On the Today Show this morning the Vice President was asked what he would tell a family member who was considering air travel to Mexico this week. The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the Administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the Vice President has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week. As the President said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

Host Matt Lauer had asked the vice president: “This is by no means a ‘gotcha’ type of question. … But if a member of your family came to you … and said, ‘Look, I want to go on a commercial airliner to Mexico, and back within the next week,’ would you think it’s a good idea?” Biden made it unmistakably clear he would not want his family make any trips on planes or subways.

To keep from getting sick, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends: “Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.”

Obama said at his news conference on Wednesday night that “individual families [need to] start taking very sensible precautions —that can make a huge difference.

“So wash your hands when you shake hands,” he advised. “Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school.

“If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don’t get on an airplane, don’t get on any system of public transportation where you’re confined and you could potentially spread the virus. So those are the steps that I think we need to take right now. But understand that because this is a new strain. We have to be cautious.”

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