The World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday removed Beijing from its list of SARS-infected areas and lifted its travel advisory against the city, which unfortunately recorded the most number of SARS cases in the world.

"The WHO has decided that the travel advisory against Beijing is lifted with immediate effect,'' Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, announced in Beijing at a press conference jointly held by WHO and China's Ministry of Health.

Omi also announced that Beijing had been removed from the list of areas with recent local transmission, “because the WHO has concluded that the chain of human-to-human transmission in Beijing has been broken.’’

The WHO issued a travel advisory on April 23 warning against non-essential travel to the Chinese capital.

“Today’s development is a milestone for the fight against SARS,not only in China but also the world, because from today the WHO has no more advisories against anywhere around the world,’’ he said.

But on a word of caution Omi called for continued vigilance against the disease in spite of the excellent achievements made in combating it. “Surveillance has to be maintained for at least one year,’’ he said.

The news means that life in China, particularly the capital, can begin to return to normal and it is now safe to travel to anywhere in the country, said the Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang in a press release shortly after the announcement was made.

Gao stressed that the WHO’s decisions indicates that China’s efforts in fighting SARS have achieved a significant, but not easy victory.

SARS has to date infected 5,326 people and killed 347 on the Chinese mainland. In Beijing alone, a total of 2,521 SARS cases have been recorded, with 191 fatalities.

Vice-Premier Wu Yi Tuesday met with WHO officials, including Shigeru Omi and Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative in China.

She thanked the WHO for their support of and co-operation with China in its battle against SARS.

Wu, who is also minister of health, expressed her hopes that the WHO would be sensitive to any attempt by some quarters in Taiwan who may seek to politicize the issue in their dealing with the WHO.

They also exchanged views on carrying out long-term co-operation between China and the WHO.

At the press conference, Gao Qiang said the victory lay in the effective measures taken by government at various levels, the hard work of the medical staff, the nationwide efforts of people across the country, and the close co-operation between China and international bodies, including the WHO.

Beijing was the last area on the Chinese mainland to have the WHO advisories lifted.
It was on May 29 that Beijing’s last SARS patient went into isolation, well beyond the 20-day period required by the WHO for removing a location from the list of areas with recent local transmission, said Omi.

On June 11 a new confirmed case was reported in Beijing. However, that patient had been isolated in hospital for a considerable period before being clinically confirmed as having SARS, therefore that infection was not from within society (during the specified period) and the recent transmission requirement set down by the WHO is met.

More than 65 per cent of cases in Beijing can now be traced back to known probable cases and certain sites where they virus was contracted, said Daniel Chin, an official with the WHO.

An effective epidemic surveillance and reporting system covering various infectious diseases will be established in China, said Gao.

And the WHO intends to strengthen their co-operation with China and help it reform, adjust and improve their public health system, particularly in those weak rural areas where the majority do not have medical insurance.

Source: China Daily