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Virus nears end in China: WHO

Manila/Beijing, June 12 (Reuters): The World Health Organisation today said the global SARS outbreak may be nearing an end and praised hard-hit China’s campaign against the virus after months of secrecy.

“In terms of the number of cases, we are seeing the end of the outbreak,” Hitoshi Oshitani, the WHO regional adviser on communicable diseases, told reporters in Manila.

Oshitani, who blasted China last week for failing to give WHO critical information on the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, said SARS was on the wane in the country, which has suffered more than 5,300 of the 8,435 cases worldwide. “We do believe the outbreak is under control in China,” she said, although SARS was “not completely under control in Taiwan”.

David Heymann, the WHO executive director for communicable diseases, praised data health officials had shared during a 24-hour stop in Beijing, the city with the world’s highest number of SARS cases.

“It’s been informative, complete and reflects the huge effort that has been made by China to contain SARS. We are very grateful that we have this information now,” he said but did not say when the UN body would lift a travel warning to Beijing and four surrounding areas.

Heymann, a prominent sceptic of the dramatic plunge in China’s reported SARS infections, came to Beijing to find reasons for the fall.

He said he would pass his findings to WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland tomorrow and she would decide whether to cancel a travel advisory. “The travel warning will be lifted one day,” Heymann told a nationally televised news conference.

Another WHO official hinted the warning could be lifted soon. “I think tomorrow it might be much clearer,” he said.

Taiwan had hoped the WHO would revise its travel warning on Tuesday, but officials said the Geneva-based organisation had requested more information from the island.

It has the third-highest number of SARS infections and victims after China and Hong Kong. The island reported two new cases today — the 12th straight day that new infections were below five. China reported no new cases and one more death, taking its death toll to 344 of the 790 deaths worldwide.

However, the WHO has expressed misgivings about the failure to diagnose properly some milder cases of SARS in China.

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