Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

WHO to say nation now free of SARS

FINALLY It has been 20 days since the last case was isolated, and the WHO has said it will take the country off its list of areas affected by the epidemic

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland will declare Taiwan free of SARS today, the organization said yesterday.

The Geneva-based WHO scheduled an announcement via a global telephone briefing for 3pm today, an Agence France-Press report said.

"Unless other cases are reported by then, Taiwan will have gone 20 straight days without a new infection of SARS, meeting the final requirement for removal from the WHO's list of areas with local transmission," the report said.

Taiwan is the only place left on the WHO's list of SARS-affected areas.

The Cabinet's SARS Prevention and Relief Committee, set up at the end of April to combat the disease and which met on a daily basis when the epidemic intensified, will only meet once a week starting next week.

The WHO was to convene a meeting in Geneva to discuss the issue at midnight last night Taiwan time, said Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), co-chairman of the committee.

Yesterday was the 19th consecutive day that no probable SARS cases were reported. According to the WHO, Taiwan will be off the list 20 days after the onset date of the nation's last SARS case, which was June 15.

The committee said that temperature checks would be continued at airports.

"Temperature checks in CKS International Airport will continue as a preventive measure because China's reports on its SARS situation are still not transparent enough," Lee said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications will decide when to stop the temperature checks, Lee said.

Domestic airports will continue checking passengers' temperatures for 10 days after Taiwan is off the list, he said.

Temperature checks in hospitals will continue for 20 days after the WHO declares Taiwan free of SARS, he said.

"Twenty days is twice the length of the incubation period of the disease," Lee said.

He described as "an incorrect move" a decision by National Taiwan University Hospital, the hospital most experienced in treating the disease, to stop temperature checks yesterday.

Lee said the committee would try to persuade the hospital to start taking temperatures again, arguing that surveys indicated that patients favor hospitals that continue temperature checks.

"Sixty percent of people interviewed said they did not want to go to hospitals that did not implement temperature checks," Lee said.

Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), director-general of the Department of Health, recommended that food workers keep wearing gloves and face masks.

"Food workers dealing with cooked food are obliged to wear face masks. Those who flout the regulation could be fined NT$30,000 to NT$150,000," Chen said.

Meanwhile, the health department realizes that SARS may emerge again in a few months when winter comes, said Tan Kai-yuan (譚開元), director-general of the department's Bureau of Medical Affairs.

"Chen has said the coming two to three months are the key period for the department to step up measures to prevent the reappearance of the disease," Tan said.

A national medical conference is due to be held in October when health units across the nation will meet to discuss how to keep SARS at bay, Tan said.

Also see story:

Taipei City emerging from shadow of SARS

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