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WHO Lifts SARS Travel Advisory for Taiwan - 2003-06-17

The World Health Organization has lifted its travel warning for Taiwan, which was put in place because of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak. Beijing is now the only place in the world remaining on the organization's travel warning list.

The World Health Organization says it has decided to remove Taiwan from its list because of, what it calls, vast and very rapid improvements in its handling of the SARS outbreak.

The WHO says Taiwan has improved its SARS detection, its system for tracing people who have been exposed to the disease and its control on the spread of the infection.

The U.N. health agency says these improvements have led to a steep drop in the daily number of new SARS cases on the island.

WHO Spokeswoman Christine McNab says Taiwan now has 49 cases of SARS, the world's third-highest number of SARS infections. Ms. McNab says Taiwan reported no new cases for the second consecutive day.

"And there have been no recent exportations," she said. "So when we looked at the data again, we decided that it was time for the travel advisory to come off for Taiwan. This means there are only four areas with local recent transmission of SARS: Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Toronto - and only one remaining travel advice for Beijing. So this means that overall, the SARS situation is looking better and better."

The World Health Organization says the SARS epidemic is coming under control. But it warns the fight is not over. The U.N. health agency recommends continued vigilance, particularly in Taiwan.

It also recommends that other places around the world do not let down their guard because, as Ms. McNab notes, it only takes one imported case or lapse in infection control to re-ignite an outbreak.

"I think we cannot say it is over until it is over, until we have no cases," said the WHO spokeswoman. "Because as long as there is an infectious case, there is a risk of spread. So when we are down to zero cases worldwide, the epidemic will be over, but we can say I think that the situation is very much under control with fewer and fewer foci of transmission for SARS."

The World Health Organization says Beijing remains the main area of concern because the Chinese capital is still reporting new SARS cases every day. But the WHO says the number of new cases is dropping steadily.