There is some encouraging news in the battle to stop the spread of the deadly SARS virus. Health officials in Hong Kong say they have now recorded just six new cases of the infection on Friday, the smallest number since the epidemic began. Meanwhile in Mainland China, World Health Organization scientists are touring rural areas of the country hoping to help local doctors cope with a growing number of infections. Worldwide the epidemic has killed 515 people and infected more than 7,000 others in some 20 countries.

The number of new cases in Hong Kong appears on the decline, giving hope to health officials that efforts to contain the spread of SARS are working. Just six new SARS cases were reported in the territory, the sixth straight day in which fewer than 10 new infections were reported. Two hundred ten people in Hong Kong have died from the flu-like virus and nearly 17-hundred others have been infected.

On the Chinese mainland, which is the frontline in the SARS battle, officials reported the number of new SARS cases in Beijing hospitals is declining. But six more people died from SARS on Friday and another 118 became infected. Two hundred thirty people across China have died from the virus, with nearly 5,000 cases reported. The new figures were released as China?s Foreign Minister met with the incoming leader of the World Health Organization, Dr. Jong-Wook-Lee. Dr. Lee told reporters the WHO is fully behind China?s efforts to contain and eradicate the disease.

?The only way to deal with this problem is finding the source of the infection and tracing the content. So, reliable information is very important.?

China came under criticism from international health organizations for initially under-reporting the numbers of SARS cases and downplaying the extent of the spreading virus. The U.S. ambassador to China, Clark Randt, called on the Chinese government to be more open about the spread of SARS.

?The most important factor in the fight against SARS is not medicine, not masks, not disinfectant. It?s information.?

Chinese health officials say they are doing more to keep the public informed about SARS and have stepped up efforts to combat the spread of the virus. In the northern province of Hebei, authorities have set up stringent checkpoints to test drivers for symptoms of the virus and disinfect their vehicles. Meanwhile, teams of WHO investigators are looking into why SARS is spreading rapidly there. Hebei, which borders Beijing, has seen its number of SARS cases double in the past week.