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WHO investigates China's fall in SARS cases

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7402.1285-c (Published 12 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1285
  1. Jane Parry
  1. Hong Kong

    The World Health Organization's executive director for communicable diseases, Dr David Heymann, travelled to Beijing this week to investigate the rapid decline in the number of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).


    Embedded Image

    Probable cases of SARS worldwide by date of report

    AP PHOTO/GREG BAKER

    Whereas there were an average 166 new cases a day in China during the first week of May, there were only 90 cases a day in the second week, 27 cases in the third week, and 16 in the fourth week.

    From 2 June to 9 June the number of reported probable cases has stayed the same at 5328, with six new deaths, taking the toll to 340.

    “Our reservations are that epidemics don't work this way. There may be some people who in other countries would at least be on the suspected list who are slipping through,” said Peter Cordingley, WHO's spokesman in Manila.

    Given that about half of new cases of SARS in China cannot be traced to a specific point of exposure, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of local transmission there, one of the key reasons why Dr Heymann is in Beijing to investigate.

    “SARS is still present in China, and WHO continues to regard China as the epicentre of SARS,” he said. “It is our job, together with the Chinese authorities, to try to prevent this disease from becoming permanently established in such a vast country.”

    Worldwide the number of new cases continues to fall. By 9 June there were 8421 reported probable cases and 784 deaths, compared with 8384 cases and 770 deaths the week before. Local transmission is now occurring only in Toronto—Canada reported 31 new cases in the week to 9 June—And in parts of China and Taiwan.

    Although Taiwan has been pushing for a lifting of the WHO travel warning, which advises travellers not to visit the country unless their travel is essential, new cases are still occurring, including four probable cases in a hospital on the outskirts of the capital Taipei. “Taiwan wasn't within two weeks of being taken off the list, no matter what they say,” said Mr Cordingley.

    Strict screening measures are still in place in Singapore despite its removal from the WHO list of SARS affected areas.

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