SARS spurs WHO advisory to avoid travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong

2 April 2003

In a fresh effort to stem the international spread of a deadly new respiratory disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) recommended today that travellers consider postponing all but essential trips to Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in China where the illness, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has taken its greatest toll.

In a fresh effort to stem the international spread of a deadly new respiratory disease, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) recommended today that travellers consider postponing all but essential trips to Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in China where the illness, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has taken its greatest toll.

At the same time, the Chinese government announced that a WHO expert team currently in Beijing would travel to Guangdong to investigate the outbreak there, the earliest and so far largest reported locus of SARS.

"These are very positive steps taken today by China," Dr. David Heymann, Executive Director of Communicable Diseases at WHO, said. "As a result we'll be able to gather even more evidence about the nature of the SARS outbreak in China."

China reported today 361 new SARS cases and 9 deaths in Guangdong for the month of March, bringing the total there from 16 November to 1,153 cases and 40 deaths. Worldwide, as of 1 April 1,800 cases with 62 deaths have been reported in 17 countries.

The new recommended travel restrictions will be reassessed daily as the epidemic evolves and do not apply to passengers simply transiting through airports in Hong Kong or Guangdong, WHO said. The agency has already recommended special screening measures at airports in four affected areas – Toronto in Canada, Singapore, Hanoi, Viet Nam, and several airports in China.

“The new travel advice is intended to limit further international spread of SARS by restricting travel to areas where the transmission patterns of SARS are not fully understood,” WHO said in a press release.

The agency also noted that the SARS situation had developed unique features in Hong Kong, where there was a continuing and significant increase in cases indicating a spread beyond the initial focus in hospitals. These developments raise questions related to other possible routes of transmission, which may involve transport of the virus from one person to another via some type of environmental means, WHO said.

 

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