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SARS Travel Advisory for Hong Kong May Soon End - 2003-05-13

The World Health Organization says it might be close to canceling an advisory against travel to Hong Kong, which has been hard hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. While the number of new cases remains low, Hong Kong announced the loss of a second health-care worker to the disease.

The World Health Organization says it might be more flexible on the criteria for lifting the travel advisory against Hong Kong.

"The mood has changed in the WHO," said Peter Cordingley, Asia Pacific spokesman for the agency. "They see Hong Kong now getting quite close to the travel advisory being lifted so what was left in the air yesterday was that none of the specific criteria should be a problem. ... WHO is much more interested in the situation in general in Hong Kong and an overall picture of weather the outbreak is under control."

The warning against travel to Hong Kong came in mid-March as SARS began to spread. It prompted tourists and business travelers to avoid the territory, and airlines, hotels, and retail businesses have suffered immensely as a result.

Hong Kong responded to the WHO's comments by promising to maintain a strict watch on where, when, and how new infections arise.

Margaret Chan is the city's health director.

"I think it is important for us to continue our measures and not only to convince the World Health Organization to lift the travel advisory," said Hong Kong health director Margaret Chan, adding "it is also important to protect the health of the community."

The UN agency said previously the city must report no more than five new cases each day for several consecutive days, and that the number of patients under treatment be no more than 60.

The number of new cases has remained close to five for the past three days. Tuesday there were six new infections, bringing the total to almost 1,700.

But the number of deaths, seven on Tuesday, is still a matter of great concern here, especially after a second health care worker lost her battle with SARS.

Dr. Tse Yeun Man, who fell ill in early April, died Tuesday. She had been treating some of the same patients that a nurse who died earlier had treated. Some experts have speculated that certain patients might have contracted a more deadly strain of the virus. Hong Kong has now reported 225 deaths.

Elsewhere, Taiwan reported 13 new cases of SARS and one more death. The authorities there say SARS has struck more than 220 people, of whom 25 have died.

The disease, which causes serious pneumonia, has now afflicted almost 7,500 people worldwide, and more than 550 have died.