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ASEAN Emergency SARS Summit Concludes - 2003-04-29

Leaders from Southeast Asia, China, and Hong Kong have concluded an emergency summit in Thailand pledging to work together to combat Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The leaders want to ease a crisis of confidence that has hurt the travel industry and is threatening economic growth in the region.

Asian leaders ended the summit expressing confidence that they will contain the SARS outbreak soon. Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said this is because more is now known about the disease and how to fight it. "I have the instinct that within two months, China, Hong Kong and Singapore will be able to contain all the disease," he said.

The Thai leader praised the World Health Organization for its early warnings over the danger of SARS. But he called for the U.N. agency to help ease fears by educating the public that SARS is not as easily transmitted as was thought at first.

"The WHO has done a very good job in the beginning, but now it is time to make it clear to the public what is the nature of the disease," Mr. Thaksin said.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao acknowledged that the situation in China is serious, noting that new cases continue to be reported around the country. But he said he believes that after some hard work the disease will be brought under control.

The other leaders expressed satisfaction with China's efforts against the disease. SARS first appeared in southern China six months ago, but officials for months withheld vital information about the outbreak. The pneumonia-like disease has since infected more than 5,000 people and has killed more than 330 people in dozens of countries.

It is still spreading. South Korea and Mongolia Tuesday reported their first confirmed cases of SARS and New Zealand identified its first probable case.

Asian leaders are concerned that international fear of SARS has hurt tourism and business travel and is affecting their economies.

Singapore's Prime Minister Chok Tong Goh calls the summit a success because the leaders put into place measures to prevent the spread of SARS such as imposing stringent checks at ports and airports. But he says Asian countries would not close their borders because of the disease.

"We have agreed that in fighting SARS we must keep our borders open. It is not agreeing to close a border to contain a problem. Because if you do that, then you are killing your economies," Mr. Goh said.

Prime Minister Goh noted that all airports in the region are being disinfected regularly, so passengers should not fear passing through them.

The SARS outbreak has hurt tourism and business travel across Asia, which was already hard hit by the war in Iraq this year and the bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali last October.

Most of the victims have been in China and Hong Kong, but cases have also been reported in most of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian nations, which held Tuesday's summit.