Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 1 News List

WHO takes Taiwan off SARS list

CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH Politicians played down what some said was the lateness of the world body's announcement and praised the nation's efforts to beat the disease

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian hits a gong to mark the country's being taken off the World Health Organization's (WHO) list of SARS-affected areas. The WHO said yesterday that SARS had been contained worldwide after it declared Taiwan, the last country on its watch list, free of new infections.


The World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday that Taiwan was off the list of areas with recent local transmission of SARS.

WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland led a global telephone briefing at 3pm yesterday to declare Taiwan free of the disease.

The health body said that with Taiwan off the list, "the human-to-human chain of transmission of this new disease appears to be broken globally."

Shortly afterward, Premier Yu Shyi-kun held a press conference to respond to the WHO announcement and to review what he called the country's "unprecedented war" against the disease.

"President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was delighted to hear the good news," Yu said.

A huge banner hung behind Yu read: "The world has seen Taiwan's efforts [in fighting SARS]."

The WHO said it has been 20 days since the last case surfaced on June 15.

"Taiwan is the last area to be removed from the list," the health body said.

Expressing the country's happiness that the country has finally been removed from the list, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said people's hearts are nevertheless heavy.

"During the outbreak, we saw the true face of China and the hard reality Taiwan faces in the international community," Lin said.

Yu and Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), head of the nation's anti-SARS efforts, played down reporters' questions about why the WHO was late in taking Taiwan off the list.

"The battle against SARS was like a race. Taiwan's outbreak began later than other countries', just like a sprinter starting running later than his competitors. That's why we reached the final point later than other countries," Lee said.

Although he avoided mentioning whether the WHO's slowness in removing Taiwan from the list was the result of pressure from China, Yu called for the health body "not to allow politics to pollute health."

He cited numbers to prove Taiwan's belated removal from the list was not the result of a weak effort in fighting SARS.

"Beijing stayed on the WHO travel advisory list for 63 days, Guangdong and Hong Kong 52 days and Taipei only 41 days," Yu said.

The WHO later extended the travel advisory to all of Taiwan.

"But the travel advisory lasted only 28 days," Yu said.

The relatively short period Taiwan was on the travel advisory list proved the country's anti-SARS measures were effective, he said.

It took Hong Kong two months to go from the peak of the epidemic there, during which 80 SARS cases were being reported daily, to zero infection. Singapore reported 22 cases a day during its peak and also needed two months to bring its infection rate to zero.

"Taiwan, during its peak, reported 60 SARS cases in a single day. We took only 3.5 weeks to bring the country from its peak to zero infection," Yu said.

The numbers, he added, proved Taiwan was not inferior to other countries in its capacity to fight SARS.

"But we are not conceited. The post-SARS reconstruction has begun," Yu said.

When the epidemic was raging, "some felt the nation might collapse," he said.

As experts warned that SARS might re-emerge this winter, Yu urged governmental agencies to prepare for the possible comeback of the disease and to face "the next wave of challenges."

Meanwhile, Lee thanked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO for their help in containing the outbreak.

"I am grateful for your help," he said.

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