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WHO Removes Beijing from SARS List, Lifts Travel Advisory

2004-06-02 14:06

The World Health Organization has decided to remove Beijing from its list of SARS-infected areas and lift its travel advisory against the city, a WHO official announced Tuesday in Beijing.

The decision took effect immediately, Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, announced at a press conference jointly held by WHO and China's Ministry of Health.

Omi said the decision to lift the advisory was based on consideration of factors including the number of current SARS cases, quality of surveillance measures and the effectiveness of prevention measures.

"WHO has decided that the travel advisory against Beijing is lifted with immediate effect," he said. "WHO concluded that the risk to travelers to Beijing is now minimum."

He also announced that Beijing was removed from the list of areas with recent local transmission, "because WHO concluded that the chain of human-to-human transmission in Beijing has been broken."

It was on May 29 that Beijing's last SARS patient was put into isolation, which has been well beyond the 20-day period required by the WHO to remove a location from the list of areas with recent local transmission, Omi said.

The patient was treated as a suspect case until June 11 when the case was clinically confirmed as SARS, added Gao Qiang, vice-minister of health of China.

SARS has infected 5,326 people and killed 347 on the Chinese mainland so far. In Beijing alone, a total of 2,521 SARS cases have been recorded, with 191 fatalities but reported no new SARS cases for consecutive 13 days as of Tuesday.

"Today's development is a milestone for the fight against SARS not only in China but also the world, because from today the WHO has no more advisory against anywhere around the world," he said.

Meanwhile, the WHO official called for continued vigilance against the disease in spite of excellent achievements. "Surveillance has to be maintained for at least one year," he said.

Omi said the WHO will carry out cooperation with China mainly in three aspects, including the study on effective surveillance and diagnose measures, the searching of the origin of the SARS virus and the improvement of Chinese health-care system.

The travel advisory was issued on the 23rd of April in order to contain the international spread of SARS. Improvements in case detection, infection control, and the tracing and follow-up of contacts have indicated the disease is no longer a threat to international travelers to Beijing.

Life order in China back to normal
Chinese Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang said that China's life order has returned to normal and it is now safe to travel to any place in the country.

Gao told the joint press briefing that the decision made by the WHO to lift the travel advisory on Beijing and remove Beijing off its list of locally transmitting area of SARS marks that China's efforts in fighting against SARS have been recognized by the international community and the WHO, and marks the thorough lifting of travel advisory to any province or municipality on the Chinese mainland.

He stressed that the WHO decision indicates that China's efforts in fighting SARS have achieved a significant victory, and the victory is not easy.

The health official said that the country vows to establish an effective epidemic reporting system that will cover various infectious diseases.

Under that system the public health department will timely collect, analyze and report information about any disease that is highly infectious and poses severe danger to human health, according to Gao

The reporting system will also cover measures adopted by the government and its requirement in controlling diseases, it will caution the public to pay attention to self protection whenever epidemic cases are found, he said.

He said that information exchange with the World Health Organization is a very important part of the system, which is a very effective way in controlling epidemic diseases.

Time needed to develop anti-SARS vaccine, drugs
Gao Qiang said that time is needed to make technical breakthroughs in developing the vaccine and drugs for severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The vice minister said the Chinese health authorities are greatly concerned about the tasks to successfully produce SARS vaccine, fast diagnosed test kits and SARS drugs, and it is a vital scientific and technological research job that relied heavily on scientists' continued efforts.

Gao noted that the measures proven effective in fighting SARS should be kept in place and the government and the people should keep vigilant before technological breakthroughs were made to finally defeat SARS.

Gao said that Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific who made the WHO's removal decision on Beijing, met with Chinese Health Minister Wu Yi, both stressing importance of closer international cooperation to make technological progress to claim an eventual human victory over SARS.

Timeline of Beijing's campaign against SARS
-- In the beginning of March, the city reports its first SARS case.

-- April 17, six local hospitals are designated for treating SARS cases;

-- April 21 to the end of the month, the city sees an upheaval in the spread of the disease, with the number of new patients ranging from 90 to 150 daily.

-- In late April, Wang Qishan takes over as acting mayor to lead the city's anti-SARS campaign, saying that only 3.4 percent of the city's 32,000 registered doctors and 34,000 licensed nurses are familiar with respiratory diseases, and the city has no respiratory hospital.

-- Beginning of May, Xiaotangshan Hospital, the country's first SARS-only hospital is built within a week.

-- May 7, all local SARS patients are moved to designated hospitals.

-- Early May, the number of new cases falls slightly, but remains quite high.

-- May 9, the daily reports of new patients starts to decline markedly; the same day, the number of local medical staff infected with SARS also drops significantly, with the daily report of infected medical workers down from an average of 15.81 persons to four.

-- May 19, the number of new cases is seven, in single figures for the first time.

-- June 2, the city reports three "zeros" for the first time: no reports of newly-confirmed outpatients, no newly-confirmed inpatients, and no new SARS deaths.

-- June 6 and 8, two more local hospitals are designated SARS hospitals, including the prestigious Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital.

-- June 23, Beijing has just 46 confirmed SARS inpatients, while the city has had no reported newly-confirmed patients for 12days in succession.

Local experts attribute the successful control of SARS to the city's timely measures and efforts, including the opening of special clinics for fever patients, protection of medical staff, organization of a 2,500-strong team to investigate the spread of SARS, setting-up of quarantine areas to cut off sources of the disease, and mobilization of local communities to fight SARS.

(from www.peopledaily.net)

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