WHO lifts SARS travel ban

China was given a double boost in its fight against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Friday, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its advisory against travel from Hong Kong and Guangdong province.

    Time to take the masks off: The
    SARS epidemic finally appears to
    be waning

    The move to lift the ban – in effect for over a month-and-a-half - is another sign that the SARS epidemic is finally subsiding.


    Hong Kong said two more people died of SARS on Friday, bringing the death toll to 260 from 1,724 infections. It has been announcing less than five new cases a day recently.


    Hong Kong still has more SARS patients in hospital than the 60 specified by WHO as an acceptable level, but Secretary for Health Yeoh Eng-kiong said there were now only 59 active cases in Hong Kong, according to WHO's definition of "active" cases.  


    Economic recovery


    Buoyed hopes for a regional economic recovery were evident in statements made by regional trade representatives who have seen their business further hit by the epidemic.


    "Good news. Good news. They finally did the right thing," said James Lu, executive director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, one of the worst-hit areas of the economy after tourists disappeared, fearing they could catch SARS.


    "But that's only step one. It will take a month or two for people to start coming back," he said.


    Massive official efforts to stamp
    out SARS  appear to have
    been successful

    Airlines, hotels, restaurants and retailers have seen their businesses devastated by the outbreak of the virus while investment banks have reduced their forecasts for Hong Kong's economic growth this year in the wake of the health scare.


    Travel industry officials said business visitors, many of whom were forbidden by their employers to travel due to the WHO advisory, would return more quickly than tourists.


    "We are hopeful that passenger demand will start to pick up, especially among business travellers. However, we do not anticipate a general recovery to be either quick or strong," said a spokeswoman of Cathay Pacific Airways.


    Relief in Guangdong

    The lift of the WHO travel advisory from Guangdong province, where the deadly virus
    originated six months ago, follows a steady, low trend of infections in recent days.


    No more than 28 cases have been reported on any day in the last seven-day period while on Friday the Chinese health ministry reported three new deaths and 20 new SARS cases.


    Beijing has now gone a week with fewer than 20 daily new confirmed cases.


    The hard-hit areas of north China - Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Hebei and Tianjin which account for 1,136 of the country's 5,285 cases - are all reporting single digit infections, if any at all.


    The subsiding of SARS is giving
    hope that economic recovery will
    be swift

    In Guangdong official figures show no new cases for six straight days while the number of SARS patients in hospital fell below 60 on 20 May.


    WHO warnings remain in place for the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia.


    Around China more than 80,000 students went back to schools this week to prepare for college entrance exams, while more than 1.6 million remain at home with most educational institutions still shut.


    At present only 28 SARS patients remain in hospital of a total of 1,513 cases and 57 fatalities that have been documented in the southern province.


    Despite the better omens, WHO is not jumping to conclusions and again Friday cautioned that SARS had not finished its rampage yet.


    "We're still urging caution," said WHO spokesman in China Bob Dietz.


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