Hong Kong off SARS list

The World Health Organisation (WHO) removed Hong Kong from its list of SARS-affected areas on Monday, prompting noisy celebrations after nearly four months in which the disease killed 296 people.

    People walking in Tsim Sha Tsui
    where celebrations were held

    The UN health agency’s decision came after 20 days had passed since the last case was isolated in the former British colony on 2 June.

     

    Twenty days is twice the maximum incubation period for the virus, according to the WHO web site.

     

    Dr David Heymann, Executive Director of Communicable Diseases at WHO, said Hong Kong had one of the hardest outbreaks to control.

     

    “This success means that the whole world can now feel safer from the SARS threat”, he said.

     

    “Four, three, two, one … hurray”, cheered dozens of kids at one school as they counted down to 3 pm (0700 GMT), the time when WHO was expected to make the announcement.

     

    “Bye bye!” one schoolgirl said joyfully as she threw her uncomfortable protective mask in a trash bag.

     

    At the famous Star Ferry terminal in the Tsim Sha Tsui, samba dancers, hired for the occasion, shook their hips and traditional lion dancers made a noisy and colourful show.

     

    The removal of Hong Kong leaves Beijing, Toronto and Taiwan on the list of areas with SARS, which has infected more than 8,400 people and killed more than 800 worldwide.

     

    The deadly respiratory disease is believed to have spread from China in February.

     

    It has devastated Hong Kong’s economy in which businesses lost billions of dollars.

     

    Unemployment rose to a record of 8.3 percent and consumer prices fell by their fastest rate in six months in May.

     

    The Hong Kong Tourism Board said it was launching a television campaign costing about US$51 million and tourists would be offered discounts on air tickets.

     

    However, Hong Kong Chief Executive Chee-hwa cautioned against thinking that the disease was gone for good.

     

    “Our name has been removed from the list, but from experience everywhere else, we have to remind ourselves that this could come again”, he said.

     

    Chee-hwa was speaking with reporters at Amoy Gardens housing estate where the territory's worst outbreak of SARS occurred, killing at least 42 people.

     

    Medical experts expressed concerns that the disease could re-emerge next winter.

     

    They said residents should remain vigilant.


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