The World Health Organization has removed Taiwan from its list of areas affected by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. The WHO says the SARS outbreak has now been brought under control worldwide, but medical experts warn it is too soon to write the disease off completely.
Taiwan Prime Minister Yun Shyi-kun says he is "extremely happy" with the island's removal from the WHO list of infected areas, saying that "we can finally return to our normal lives."
The removal comes after Taiwan went 20 days with no new SARS cases. The WHO established the 20-day requirement, which is twice the 10-day incubation period for the disease.
Taiwan was the final region on what at one point was a sizable list of SARS-affected areas. WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland says Taiwan's removal represents a global success.
"Due to an unprecedented global collaboration in public health, the World Health Organization can say that the SARS outbreaks have been contained worldwide," she said.
But Dr. Brundtland is also warning against complacency. She points out that some 200 people remain in SARS quarantine worldwide, and says some SARS cases may have not been identified.
Medical experts say the SARS virus apparently thrives in colder weather, and warn there could be a renewed outbreak this coming winter.
Taiwan was the world's third hardest-hit area, following Mainland China, where the disease first appeared, and Hong Kong. Taiwan reported a total of 674 cases and 84 deaths, and the impact was widespread.
The island's top health official resigned in May over accusations that hospitals were failing to diagnose and isolate SARS patients. About 90 percent of Taiwan's SARS cases originated in hospitals, leading the authorities to restructure the system of hospital administration. Citizens were required to wear surgical masks in subways during the outbreak.
The government meanwhile was bitterly critical of Beijing's policy of blocking the island from WHO membership. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province, and has consistently opposed its membership in any organization made up of sovereign states.
Beijing eventually condoned a visit by WHO experts to Taiwan, and approved Taiwan's participation in a WHO conference on SARS.
Worldwide, 8,439 SARS cases have been reported, along with 812 deaths. Thirty countries on five continents were affected. The cities on the WHO list at one point included Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Manila, Hanoi and Toronto, Canada.
Tourist travel to East Asia all but came to a halt during the outbreak, dealing a severe blow to economies across the region.