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WHO Upholds SARS Travel Advisory for Beijing - 2003-06-17

The World Health Organization has removed its SARS-related travel advisory on Taiwan, but the advice to avoid visiting Beijing remains in place.

The World Health Organization said Taiwan's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is under control and it has lifted its travel warning.

The news came during a WHO conference in Kuala Lumpur where more than 1,000 health experts are meeting to discuss ways to prevent the spread of the new virus that causes SARS.

Taiwan Center for Disease Control Director General Dr. Su Ih-jen said Taiwan's full cooperation with the U.N. agency helped it control the disease. "We have the CDC and WHO experts in Taiwan. We communicate daily. The data is entirely open and we did not cover or hide anything," Dr. Su said.

Taiwan, whose outbreak started weeks after similar outbreaks in the region had peaked, now reports the world's third-largest number of infections, with almost 700 SARS cases and at least 80 deaths.

Despite fewer new infections in China, the WHO advice to avoid Beijing remains in effect. The Chinese capital is the only place in Asia with a SARS-related travel advisory.

China's vice health minister Gao Xiang told the conference that his country has paid a heavy price for its fragmented and inadequate healthcare system. He said China had lost a lot and learned a lot, and that Beijing has moved to upgrade its disease surveillance and infection control measures.

WHO officials acknowledge that SARS outbreaks are fading and say international cooperation helped contain the disease.

At the same time, Hitoshi Oshitani, a WHO regional adviser, said most countries still need better preparedness.

SARS has claimed about 800 lives out of more than 8,000 people infected.