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Fewer SARS Cases Being Reported in China - 2003-05-27

China's government plans to ease travel restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Beijing reported five new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, while only four other provinces reported new cases of SARS. That compares with a few weeks ago when dozens of new cases were being reported daily around the country.

China has reported a total of 5,300 SARS cases and 267 deaths from SARS in the past seven months.

The falling number of new cases in China has prompted officials to relax restrictions on domestic tourists. That follows last week's decision by the World Health Organization to drop its warning against travel to southern China and Hong Kong.

Guangdong Province tourism official Zhang Tong-yang said regular travel to and from southern China will soon resume.

Referring to the lifting of the WHO travel advisory, Mr. Zhang said government restrictions on the sale of tour packages between the two regions would likely be removed in June.

To check the spread of the disease, China barred travel agents from selling plane or train tickets and package tours. The government also tried to keep migrant workers in the cities from traveling back to their rural homes. Beijing was afraid that impoverished rural communities would be unable to cope with a major outbreak of SARS, which causes a serious form of pneumonia.

In Taiwan, a top health official is complaining the World Health Organization had not recognized that the island's SARS outbreak has peaked. Health Minister Chen Chien-jen said the island's outbreak is "under effective control."

Last week, the U.N. health agency said the island had the "world's fastest growing outbreak" after a daily report of new infections hit a high of 65.

Reports of new infections fell to the teens in recent days. Officials said there were 11 new cases and no deaths. Sixty people have lost their lives to SARS, among the 585 people infected in Taiwan.

Hong Kong scientists say they will soon begin testing a trial vaccine against SARS on monkeys. Last week the same research team at Hong Kong University found evidence the virus originated in the civet, a small wild mammal considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.

Worldwide SARS has sickened 8,200 people, killing at least 725.