WHO lifts its advisory on travel to Vietnam

No new SARS cases there for 20 days, officials say

April 29, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HONG KONG - The World Health Organization lifted its advisory yesterday against travel to Vietnam and said that SARS infections appeared to be dwindling in Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong, but it warned that the disease was still spreading in China.

Taiwan, which is not a WHO member because of Beijing's objections, also has been reporting a growing number of cases lately and has been taking drastic measures, including an expansion yesterday of its restriction on the entry of people who have passed through other countries and territories with SARS outbreaks.

Vietnam was one of the first countries outside China with an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. But after 63 cases last month and early this month, and five deaths, Vietnam has not had any new cases in 20 days, which the WHO believes to be twice the disease's incubation period.

Hong Kong is still reporting new cases, but the numbers have slipped lately. There were 20 to 40 a day through much of this month, but 16 on Sunday and 14 yesterday. This autonomous Chinese territory had 12 deaths from SARS on Sunday and five more yesterday, however, and Margaret Chan, Hong Kong's director of health, warned that while the number of cases had stabilized, it was too soon to say it was under control.

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, credited the city's success to its energetic efforts to track down the close personal contacts of SARS patients and confine them in their homes with regular medical tests, so that if they do fall ill, they will not infect anyone else before they are hospitalized. Police detectives and computer specialists have joined doctors and nurses in hunting down and confining these family members.

Singapore reported no new SARS cases yesterday and one death. The city-state reported one case on Sunday, the result of a postmortem examination of someone who died April 22, and had three cases Saturday.

Canada has also reported few cases in recent days, and has been lobbying for the WHO to lift its advisory against travel to Toronto, a proposal that the WHO has agreed to consider.

By contrast, mainland China posted an additional 203 cases yesterday, bringing its total to 3,106 over the past six months. China also recorded eight more SARS-related deaths, pushing the mainland's death toll to 139, narrowly ahead of Hong Kong's 138.

Taiwan has 55 probable cases of SARS and another 72 suspected cases, according to its Department of Health. Taipei quarantined one of its largest hospitals last week, ordering all medical staff and patients to stay inside regardless of whether they are infected with SARS.

Health authorities have maintained the quarantine despite angry protests by about 1,000 people trapped inside, including a breakout attempt by 20 and a suicide attempt over the weekend.

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