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WHO Advises Travelers to Avoid Taipei - 2003-05-08

The World Health Organization has advised travelers to avoid Taipei, due to the city's growing outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. China's top leaders are admitting that SARS will cause problems for the country's economy.

Taipei, Taiwan's capital, has joined the list of Asian destinations with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-related health advisories.

The World Health Organization urged travelers to avoid the city, as cases of SARS continue to climb. Island-wide, Taiwan reports more than 140 SARS victims, at least 15 of whom have died.

The U.N. agency also extended a similar advisory to the mainland Chinese city of Tianjin and the province of Inner Mongolia. Such advisories often influence governments to issue similar warnings, and have a direct impact on tourism and business travel.

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was quoted in state-run media as saying the nation's SARS situation remains "grim." Top leaders are acknowledging that SARS will take an economic toll on the country.

After a Wednesday meeting with Cabinet members, Mr. Wen urged local governments to limit economic damage caused by SARS. His finance minister promised a fund for controlling the disease and financial relief to rural economies and hard-hit industries, according to state media.

Meanwhile, tourism has slowed to a trickle, and China's neighbors are trying to keep the disease out.

Zhang Qiyue, a foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that a number of countries have sealed their borders with China.

Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Nepal have all closed border checkpoints, and Russia is considering suspending air links.

China, with almost 4600 cases and 224 deaths, is the country hardest hit by SARS.

China also pledged support to Hong Kong. The territory has more than 1600 SARS cases and 208 deaths.

Speaking at a ceremony in the mainland city Shenzhen, Tang Jianxuan, a communist party member, presented medical supplies to Hong Kong's leader Tung Chee-hwa.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's health director, Margaret Chan, urged caution, despite a fall in the number of new infections in the city.

"This is the fifth day that we have recorded single digits in terms of daily new cases," she said. "And this is a very encouraging trend. … It is at this moment that we have to maintain our vigilance."

Worldwide, SARS has hit more than 7,000 people and killed about 500. SARS victims suffer from a serious form of pneumonia.