- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

BANGKOK Wen Jiabao, in his first foreign public appearance as Chinese prime minister, conceded yesterday that Beijing mishandled the SARS epidemic and said the virus remains out of control in parts of China.
"Some of the places hit early by this disease, such as the province of Guangdong, are still reporting new cases of SARS," Mr. Wen said at a meeting of Southeast Asian heads of government called to discuss the mysterious disease.
"Like Beijing, Shanxi province and Inner Mongolia, those are regions which have experienced a surge in the number of reported SARS cases and the situation there has not been brought completely under control," he said.
Mr. Wen, who took office just last month, predicted "a long-term, complex and relapsing epidemic" while conceding that China erred in its initial attempts to cope with the disease.
"What we lacked was prevention and control experience. Our countermeasures were, by far, inadequate," Mr. Wen said. "We have already learned our lesson."
His remarks to reporters concluded a one-day summit at which Asian leaders announced wide-ranging steps to control the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
A joint declaration by China, Hong Kong and 10 Southeast Asian countries said they would take "rigorous measures" concerning immigration and customs controls, including predeparture and arrival screening of travelers, and better flight management.
"Thermometers will be put into your ears" and passengers with a high fever will be stopped from boarding planes, Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said.
"It can be controlled," Mr. Goh said, "and now China is beginning to also control it. But no matter how you control it, there will be the occasional outburst of SARS."
China and countries from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also agreed to set up a regional information network to help stop the spread of SARS and said their countries would cooperate on researching the disease.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Although airline traffic spread SARS beyond China to Toronto and elsewhere, a senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that air travel is safe.
"Airplane filter systems have been shown to be effective in screening out not only influenza, which travels at a much more rapid rate and much more rapidly throughout populations," but also in blocking SARS, said Dr. David L. Heymann, executive director of WHO's Communicable Diseases Cluster.
Airline passengers, he said, are unlikely to catch SARS during a flight unless they are sitting next to a sneezing, coughing, infected person. He also said wearing a mask while walking down the street will not prevent SARS.
"If someone in the general public sees someone who they feel has SARS, then is the time to wear a mask," he said.
"We have made recommendations that people postpone travel to three areas: Hong Kong, China and, last week, Toronto. Aside from that, international travel should continue at a normal rate."
The disease has killed 321 persons and sickened 5,050 as of Monday, according to WHO.
At least 4,471 of those infections occurred in mainland China and Hong Kong, including 269 fatalities.
WHO's death toll also listed: 23 persons in Singapore, 18 in Canada, five dead in Vietnam and two each in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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