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WHO Removes SARS Travel Advisory for Philippines - 2003-05-21

The Philippines says it is free of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the World Health Organization says it is safe to visit the country. A top Chinese official expressed disappointment that the U.N. agency has not removed travel advisories on parts of southern China and Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization has taken the Philippines off the list of countries with recent locally transmitted cases of SARS.

The last local cases happened on April 30, when a doctor and nurse caught the disease from a patient. Philippine health authorities reported a total of 12 probable cases in the country, and two deaths from SARS.

Many countries had stopped accepting Filipino migrant workers for fear of importing SARS. But a WHO spokesman in Manila said the Philippines has been removed from the agency's list of places with travel advisories.

WHO warnings to avoid unnecessary travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in southern China remain in effect for the time being.

Speaking at a the World Health Assembly conference in Geneva, China's Health Minister Wu Yi said she was disappointed by the continued advisories.

Ms. Wu said Beijing will "fully promote" removing Hong Kong and Guangdong from the WHO's list of places considered unsafe for visitors. She also said she does not understand why the SARS-related travel advisories have not been rolled back, since new cases in both places have been kept to single digits in recent weeks.

Hong Kong reported one new case Wednesday. The death toll rose by two to reach 255 people, out of more than 1,700 cases.

The WHO has said that the number of SARS patients in hospitals should fall below 60 before the travel warning is removed. At least 165 SARS patients remain hospitalized in Hong Kong.

China, which reported 12 new infections and two deaths, has recorded dramatic falls in the number of new infections in recent weeks. The drop raises fresh concern among WHO experts that some reporting methods might not be sound.

The disease, which scientists say originated in China, has killed about 300 people out of more than 5,200 cases.

Taiwan has the world's fastest growing SARS outbreak and announced 35 new cases Wednesday. The number of deaths was unchanged at 52.

Worldwide, the disease, which causes a serious pneumonia, has infected about 7,900 people and killed 667. Most cases have been concentrated in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.