The World Health Organization says efforts to control Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome are working and SARS no longer makes it dangerous to travel to Beijing. But a Chinese health official says the struggle against SARS is not over.
The WHO's top official for Asia, Dr. Shigeru Omi, announced Tuesday that the advisory warning against travel to Beijing is no longer needed. "After careful analysis, WHO has concluded that risk to travelers is now minimal," said Dr. Omi.
The move now means there are no SARS-related travel warnings anywhere in the world, after nearly four months.
The World Health Organization also took Beijing off the list of places where SARS has been transmitted recently. Now, the WHO is concerned about possible new transmissions of the disease in Taiwan and Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Omi said the decision to end the SARS warnings for Beijing was based on several factors, including the effectiveness of prevention measures, the number of cases and the quality of surveillance.
But he said at news conference here in Beijing that doctors and the public will have to be on watch against the sometimes-deadly respiratory disease for at least a year.
SARS was first reported in southern China last November. It spread to Hong Kong in March and around the world, infecting more than 8,400 people in 30 countries and killing more than 800 of them. The worst toll was in China, with about two-thirds of the infections and nearly half the deaths.
China's executive vice minister of health, Gao Qiang, called the end of the travel advisory a victory but cautioned the fight against SARS will continue.
The vice minister also urged China's people to remember the health workers, nurses and doctors who fought the outbreak, particularly those who died in the struggle.
The end of the WHO warnings is seen as crucial to rebuilding tourism in China and returning life to normal. At its peak in April and May, the Chinese government shut schools, movie theaters and bars in cities with SARS cases. At one point, thousands of people were under quarantine in an effort to halt the outbreak.
Throughout Asia, the SARS outbreak caused economic havoc, with airlines cutting thousands of flights, and hotels and restaurants laying off thousands of workers. Some companies were forced to temporarily close when workers were found to have SARS, while governments, businesses, and households spent millions of dollars to fight the disease.