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Apparent Decline in SARS Leaves Asian Residents Breathing Easier - 2003-05-31

Residents in several countries across Asia are hopeful amid indications that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the region is on the decline. Officials in China, Taiwan and Singapore remain on guard against a recurrence of the disease.

It might be too early to declare victory against SARS in Asia, but the positive statistics are hard to ignore.

In China, the head of Beijing's publicity department, Cai Fuchao, announced that the number of new SARS cases had dropped 90 percent since the first week of May, down to single digits each day. China reported only a single new infection on Saturday.

However, Mr. Cai remained wary. "It is justifiable for me to say that we have already gained an initial success in the fight against SARS in the month of May. Of course, we'll by no means drop our guards or be less watchful. We will continue to fight the battle and to do our job in the next phase in the campaign against SARS," he said.

Despite the words of caution, the Beijing government is cutting the number of designated SARS hospitals from 16 to seven. And Mr. Cai said it will not be too long before the city allows sports facilities to reopen. There was also cause for guarded optimism in Taiwan, as the island moved into its second straight day of single-digit increases. Officials announced nine new SARS cases on Saturday, down from a record high of 65 cases in a single day on May 22. In a bid to continue the trend, the government will soon launch a campaign calling on all residents to measure their temperatures twice a day until June 10.

Singapore was officially removed from the World Health Organization's list of SARS-infected countries on Saturday, after going for twenty days without any new infections. The country's economy, like most of those in the region, has been hard-hit by the SARS outbreak, suffering a dramatic drop in tourism and retail sales.

Ministry of Health officials in the city-state say they will maintain their strict anti-SARS measures, but Singapore's retailers are hoping that residents will return to the shops soon to take advantage of the annual Great Singapore Sale.