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SARS May Come Back, But in Different Genre: WHO

Although severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) infection from human to human has been interrupted globally, the virus is by no means eradicated. It may come again in winter, but present in a different genre, warned the visiting World Health Organization (WHO) official, Shigeru Omi, in Macao Wednesday.

"This particular disease may not come, but new diseases present similar symptoms on human beings like SARS may turn up," said the WHO Western Pacific Regional director, who arrived in Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) Monday on a three-day inspection visit at the invitation of the SAR government on the review work of SARS control.

Omi called on the whole international community to stay vigilant against SARS. "But there is no need to be panic. If a new SARS disease came, the experiences gained would ensure a response better than what we did before," he said.
Omi is the fourth WHO expert to visit Macao this year, which is a member of the WHO's West-Pacific Region. He highly praised the SAR's effective containment of the disease, which broke out in Macao's neighboring regions of Guangdong and Hong Kong in April.

Omi concluded four factors which ensured Macao remained a "safety island" in the epidemic outbreak with just one imported SARS case found in the SAR.

Firstly, the SAR government's advanced preventive work was introduced as early as February, when nobody well understood the nature of the disease, and the government was fully aware the contagiosity of the disease.

Secondly, the government has given a strong support to the multi-sector collaboration of the SARS taskforce.

Thirdly, medical procedures and facilities in the designated SARS hospitals in Macao have been completely in line with WHO guidelines. And finally, Macao's quarantine systems at the border gates are very effective, Omi summarized.

He suggested Macao apply for a "healthy city" appraisal, which is held by the WHO. "It is the right time for Macao to showcase its image as a healthy and safe tourist city," he said.

Chui Sai On, secretary for Social Affairs and Culture and designated director of the just-closed Macao SARS taskforce, took the suggestion on behalf of the SAR government saying that Macao will carry out application procedures right away.

(Xinhua News Agency July 30, 2003)

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