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WHO guide to Delhi on virus

New Delhi, April 7: The World Health Organisation believes there is no reason for India to “hide” information about cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an infection that has so far claimed 89 lives across the world.

“We do not want the government to hide. But, at the same time, we do not want a repeat of the panic that was unleashed by the outbreak of plague in Surat in 1993,” said Dr Kumara Rai, WHO director of communicable diseases in Southeast Asia.

The Centre has not hit the panic button on the ground that, so far, not a single SARS case has been reported in the country. The government, however, pulled up its socks only in the last couple of days when surveillance at airports was tightened. According to Rai, “the surveillance system has to improve”.

“India, so far, has been seemingly lucky,” said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The organisation felt it would have been much better if it had been able to help China control the infection at the initial stage. Of the 18 countries stricken with the virus, China is one of the worst affected.

“The collaboration between WHO and China should have happened in the initial stages of the SARS outbreak. We have good collaboration now,” Brundtland said.

Though the source of the infection is still unclear, it has been established beyond doubt that the virus passes on through close physical contact. But “there could also be other modes of transmission”, Rai said.

As a precautionary method, he suggested frequent washing of hands and good personal hygiene because “so far, no specific treatment is recommended”.

Rai said the public health system was responsible for timely intervention and curtailing the spread of the infection.

The WHO has already issued a health advisory urging people not to make “non-essential” trips to China and Vietnam, another country with a high number of SARS cases.

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