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ASEAN Leaders Hold Emergency SARS Summit in Thailand - 2003-04-29


Leaders from Southeast Asia, China and Hong Kong are holding an emergency one-day summit in Thailand on containing the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and easing the economic impact on the region. The disease has killed more than 300 people and infected more than 5,000 mostly in Asia.

Asian leaders are due to adopt strict measures to contain the disease. These would include health checks to prevent travelers infected with SARS from leaving their countries and an early warning system for nations that have not been affected.

China and Thailand are proposing a special fund of more than two million dollars to study and prevent the pneumonia-like disease. Senior Thai officials say Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made the proposal Tuesday during a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pledge more than one million dollars of seed money for the fund. Thailand would contribute a quarter-million dollars.

SARS first appeared in southern China in November. It has since infected more than 5,000 people and killed more than 330 in dozens of countries and it is still spreading. South Korea and Mongolia Tuesday reported their first confirmed cases of SARS, and New Zealand identified its first probable case.

The World Health Organization's chief of communicable diseases, David Heyman, said the outbreak has been contained in Vietnam, and stabilized in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. "These countries will still have to make great efforts to control the outbreaks and contain them, but they're well on the way to decreasing that epidemic curve," he said. Mr. Heyman said the main concern now is China, where officials at first withheld vital information on the SARS outbreak.

Premier Wen Tuesday pledged China's full cooperation with Asian nations to contain SARS. Mr. Wen said China is facing-up to its SARS problem and asks the public to trust its good intentions. The government in Beijing Tuesday announced a series of new control measures and improved medical attention.

The World Health Organization is praising these new steps but said China must be more forthcoming with vital information it has still not shared about SARS.

The director of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy firm in Hong Kong, Bob Broadfoot, says Tuesday's SARS summit is more significant than most regional meetings. "You're not talking about a wish list. You're talking about an immediate problem that requires cross-country, cross-border cooperation. And there's a large incentive on all the governments involved to cooperate on this," Mr. Broadfoot said. As a result, Mr. Broadfoot said this summit could produce some short-term, concrete actions. The SARS epidemic has hurt tourism and business travel across Asia, already hard-hit because of the war in Iraq this year and the bombings 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 ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

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