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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Vietnam gets top marks on Sars
Street scene in Hanoi
Vietnam has now been pronounced Sars-free

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described Vietnam as a case study on how to fight Sars.

Hanoi's success in controlling the virus raises hopes for other countries, the head of the WHO's team fighting Sars in Vietnam, Aileen Plant, said.

Although Vietnam was one of the first countries to face a Sars outbreak, Ms Plant noted that there were now no known cases of Sars in the country - and as long as precautions were followed, no reason to fear any, she said.

Elsewhere in the region, countries are continuing to battle the virulent disease. In Taiwan, health authorities reported six more deaths from Sars on Wednesday, taking the death toll to 31.

Known death tolls:
World: 812
Mainland China: 348
Hong Kong: 298
Taiwan: 84
Singapore: 32
Canada: 38
Source: WHO/local authorities

There are also 18 new cases - mostly related to mass infections at two hospitals that have been closed off, the authorities said..

And the WHO has described China's announcement on Tuesday that the disease was now under control in the capital, Beijing, as premature.

China has been criticised for its initial secrecy regarding Sars.

In contrast, Ms Plant said that Vietnam's government had taken all the right action - from international co-operation and an openness about the issue, to training health workers about the symptoms.

The disease killed five people and infected 63, but on 28 April, the health ministry declared it had brought the spread of the virus under control after 20 days with no new infections.

Ms Plant acknowledged, however, that it was difficult for Vietnam to police its long borders, including that with China.

But she noted that continuing trust in the government would help boost tourism and trade, noting that there was an important link between economic health and the ability to deliver health services to the world's poorest people.

Comfort of strangers

The BBC's Clare Arthurs in Hanoi says that the visit of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Vietnam, ending a tour of South East Asia, appears to bear out the WHO's assertion that the country is safe to visit.

Chancellor Schroeder
People in Beijing are still taking no chances

Mr Schroeder is due to sign a number of co-operation agreements.

In China, which remains the world's Sars hotspot, the government has warned officials across the country that they will be punished if they seek to cover up any information about the virus.

The new rules will require any emergency to be reported within hours.

The admission on Tuesday that at least 10% of cases in the capital are among migrant workers has raised fears that the disease could spread within rural communities.

More than 260 people have died of the disease in China, while 5,086 have been infected.

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