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WHO Lifts SARS Warning For Most of China - 2003-06-13


The World Health Organization says it is lifting its travel warning against most places in China, but the warning still applies to Beijing. The agency is lifting travel warnings for China's Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Tianjin regions.

The World Health Organization says the situation in these five areas of China has improved significantly, and SARS no longer presents a potential threat to international travelers. However, the U.N. health agency says people should continue to avoid all nonessential travel to the Chinese capital, Beijing, and to Taiwan.

WHO Spokesman Iain Simpson says WHO has issued the new guidance on the basis of data received by its director of communicable diseases, who went to China earlier this week.

"It is clear that, in those areas, they have gone more than two incubation periods," he said. "In other words, more than 20 days since they had the last case of SARS. This is obviously extremely positive news, and it shows that SARS really has been brought under control in most parts of China."

Mr. Simpson says the WHO also is removing nine provinces in China from its list of places with recent local transmission of SARS. One of these places is Guongdong province, where the potentially fatal disease is believed to have originated.

But, he says the travel advisory will remain in place for Beijing, which has not yet fully controlled the spread of the disease. He says the Chinese government agrees with this decision.

At the same time, Mr. Simpson says WHO has decided to put the Canadian city of Toronto in a more severe category of disease transmission.

He says this is because Toronto exported a case of SARS to the United States. He says a man who became infected with the disease in a Toronto hospital is now being treated for SARS in the U.S. state of North Carolina.

"I have had a lot of questions asking, is this the first step towards a new travel recommendation? The answer is 'not necessarily.' It depends what happens," said Iain Simpson. "We continue to watch very carefully the situation in Toronto and to be concerned about it. This does not necessarily indicate that a travel recommendation will follow. It depends what happens."

The World Health Organization lifted its travel ban for Toronto on May 14, when a severe SARS outbreak seemed to be under control. But Mr. Simpson says Canadian health authorities then let down their guard. He says somewhere along the line Canada's surveillance system broke down, and that's why Toronto is experiencing another outbreak.