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Outbreak of SARS Has Peaked, World Health Organization Says

By Ellen Nakashima

BANGKOK, Thailand

The World Health Organization said Monday that the SARS outbreak has peaked and is on the decline in Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore, but not in China, where WHO officials called for detailed disclosure on the progress of the sometimes-fatal respiratory ailment.

“We believe that these countries will still have to make great efforts to control the outbreaks and contain them, but that they’re well on the way to decreasing that epidemic curve, so that they will go down to no cases,” said David L. Heymann, WHO chief of communicable diseases. “We have great hopes that they will do that, and that they will be free of SARS.”

But he said China must work hard to identify cases and control the outbreak of SARS in the provinces.

The U.N. health organization also reported that Vietnam is the first country to successfully contain the virus and will be removed from the organization’s list of countries with local transmission of SARS.

Leaders from a number of Asian countries, including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, on his first foreign trip, and Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, were to hold a one-day summit here on Tuesday where they were expected to endorse measures to reduce the spread of the disease.

At least 3,106 cases of SARS with 139 fatalities have been reported in China, where the virus was first detected in November in the southern province of Guangdong. The disease then spread to Hong Kong, which has reported at least 1,557 cases and 138 fatalities. Together, the incidence in mainland China and Hong Kong accounts for more than 85 percent of all cases listed by WHO.

The WHO announcement on the decline of the disease in some locations is an indication that the virus, which has killed 321 people worldwide and infected more than 5,000, can be eradicated, officials said.

Since April 11, the number of new infections in Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam has decreased, said Heymann, speaking to a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. But China reported 203 new cases of SARS and eight more deaths Monday.

Henk Bekedam, head of the WHO office in Beijing, called on Chinese officials to provide more details about SARS, including detailed identification of outbreaks and the location of patients.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government officially listed only 37 cases and four deaths from SARS in Beijing. Officials later acknowledged mistakes in handling the outbreak and apologized for underreporting statistics about the epidemic. Monday, 96 new cases were reported in Beijing, increasing the total to 1,199, with 59 deaths.