WHO cancels SARS warning on travel to Beijing

Jun 25, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday canceled its warning against travel to Beijing, site of the world's largest SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrom) outbreak, signaling that the disease is finally under control in the Chinese capital.

"Beijing is the last area to which WHO recommended that people postpone all but essential travel," said WHO Director General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. "This is very good news and shows the great progress the world has made against SARS." Advisories regarding Toronto and Taiwan were canceled earlier, though the WHO still lists them as places with recent local transmission.

The WHO also took Beijing off the list of places with recent local spread of SARS. The last new case in Beijing was isolated May 29, though a number of suspected cases have been evaluated and ruled out since then, the WHO announcement said. "No cases have recently been exported from Beijing and all recent cases have been traced to known chains of transmission."

Beijing has had 2,521 probable SARS cases with 191 deaths, WHO officials said. The second-largest SARS outbreak, with 1,755 cases and 296 deaths, was in Hong Kong, which was declared free of local transmission 2 days ago. China's Guangdong Province, where SARS first emerged last November, has had 1,511 cases and 57 deaths.

The end of the travel warning for Beijing followed the gradual lifting of SARS control measures that included the closing of schools, theaters, and other public gathering places since late April, the Associated Press reported.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still advising against unnecessary travel to Beijing and Taiwan as of today. The CDC also is still advising travelers to take SARS-related precautions if they go to mainland China, Hong Kong, or Toronto.

Beijing authorities were accused of covering up the extent of the city's SARS outbreak in its early stages. When China began daily reporting of SARS cases in early April, Beijing reported 29 cases and 4 deaths, according to the WHO. When the city's outbreak peaked in late April, the city was reporting more than 100 new cases daily, the agency noted.

"Containment of an outbreak of such dimension is a tribute to the effectiveness of centuries-old control measures, including isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine, supported by government commitment at the highest levels," the WHO said.

An AP report said only 46 SARS patients remained hospitalized in Beijing yesterday. A Chinese health official told the Associated Press that authorities temporarily would keep checking travelers for fever at airports and bus stations.

Yesterday the WHO reported only four new SARS cases worldwide since the day before. The cumulative case count was 8,458, with 807 deaths.

See also:

WHO announcement canceling the travel warning
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2003_06_24/en/

CDC SARS site
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/

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