- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

From combined dispatches

A jubilant Taiwan celebrated its official SARS-free status yesterday with champagne and dancing in the streets, while the island’s businesses hunkered down to plot its economic revitalization.

A parade through the capital, Taipei, gathered more than 1,000 people, including student marching bands and revelers dressed as cartoon characters to trumpet the island’s success in beating severe acute respiratory syndrome. Students from southern Yunlin clad in traditional Chinese apparel filled the square of the Presidential Office, gyrating to pounding drumbeats to mark the official removal Saturday of Taiwan from the World Health Organization (WHO) list of areas affected by SARS.

Major hotels and tour companies on the island used yesterday’s euphoria to promote tourism, offering bargain-priced promotional packages to local and foreign visitors.

The Tourism Bureau has planned an $8.72 million series of publicity campaigns to lure back tourists.

Chinese officials in Beijing sought to boost their own SARS-battered tourism industry over the weekend with a Friday surprise party for visitors at the Great Hall of the People.

More than 500 visitors from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea were treated to a free banquet and show in a bid to revive tourism after last week’s lifting of the WHO advisory against traveling to China’s capital.

Beijing tourism officials said they hoped publicity from the banquets would spread the word that the city is a safe place to visit. They said they planned to offer banquets to a total of 1,500 tourists.

“Beijing can guarantee you a wonderful, safe visit and unforgettable memories,” Tourism Bureau Director Yu Changjiang said in a speech to diners.

Beijing is conducting promotions in major tourist markets such as Japan, Korea, France and Germany and will sell tickets to attractions at off-season prices.

Taipei was packed yesterday with residents taking unmasked breaths of fresh air, free from worry of infection by the pneumonialike respiratory virus that killed 84 persons from 674 infections on the island since mid-March.

“I have stayed at home for a long time. It’s really nice to get fresh air outside,” an unnamed woman told cable television.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou donned a peaked witch’s cap and cape to help merchants lure back customers. He had been among revelers late Saturday who downed champagne to the flash of fireworks outside the Wanhua night market, a landmark spot for hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists a year.

“Taiwan has been removed by the World Health Organization from the affected area of SARS. So feel free and feel safe to come to Taipei,” Mr. Ma said.

Top Taiwanese dailies the United Daily News, China Times and Liberty Times splashed the parties on their front pages, including congratulations offered by Premier Yu Shyi-kun.

“With continuous review and improvement to our disease-control measures and procedures over past months, Taiwan’s hard work has eventually been acknowledged by the WHO,” he was quoted as saying.

The WHO has announced the respiratory disease has been contained worldwide.

The island was the last area on the organization’s watch list for SARS, which killed more than 800 people and infected more than 8,400 in about 30 countries.

A marked rise also has been reported in the number of visitors to the island, according to data collected at the northern Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.

Airport authorities said 36,054 passenger arrivals and departures were recorded Saturday, up from the record low of 5,676 on May 19.

Meanwhile, Taipei’s top carrier China Airlines announced plans to resume full capacity on its Hong Kong services, a roster of 12 daily round-trip flights, by Aug. 1.

Taiwan trade authorities have cut their forecast for 2003 export growth to 5.32 percent from 7.01 percent because of SARS, compounding the blow felt in April as the island’s economy moved into recession.

The last time the economy was in recession was in February 2002.

Tourism earned Beijing $14 billion in 2002, but revenue in that sector this year is expected to be $5.4 billion below that.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists heeded the WHO advisory and stayed away from China during the outbreak.

Millions of Chinese tourists also kept away because of travel restrictions aimed at containing the illness.

No newly isolated cases of the disease have been announced in Beijing in about a month.

“I was gobsmacked when they told us about [the banquet],” said Jan Lokan of Australia, part of a 30-member tour group, who arrived in Beijing Friday.

The group received a police escort from the airport and were greeted with musicians and dancers at their hotel, she said.

Another member of the group, Jean Christie, said she booked the tour months ago, before the SARS outbreak.

About half of all cases and deaths were in Beijing, the hardest-hit place in the global outbreak, which is believed to have originated in November in southern China.

“We were just hoping that SARS would be over by the time we came,” she said.

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