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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 June, 2003, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Asia unites against Sars
Woman at tourism ceremony in Beijing
China is celebrating its success in containing Sars

Ministers from Asian nations affected by the outbreak of Sars have pledged to work together to overcome the impact the virus has had on the region.

Asia is still reeling from the economic damage caused by the epidemic, which kept tourists and businessmen away.

"Early resumption of normal business travel and tourism is essential for overcoming the economic damage caused by Sars in recent months," said a statement adopted at the meeting, which is being held in Bangkok.

The ministers also agreed to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure the disease was kept under control.

Having overcome the Sars epidemic, Chinese society is more mature and open
Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi
"Excellent work and co-operation has already been undertaken by Apec members to overcome the threat of Sars," they said in a statement, pointing to border screening and quarantine measures.

"We are fully aware, however, that this is only the start."

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that Sars was unlikely ever to disappear completely.

"There is no telling when it will re-emerge and how much more damage it will do the next time around," he warned.

New approach

China was strongly criticised for being slow to notify the WHO when the virus first emerged on its territory.

But Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi said at the start of the meeting that Beijing's approach had now changed.

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

"When the epidemic first struck, we were unaware of its gravity. Moreover, our public health system was weak and flawed and there was neither unified chain of command nor smooth flow of information," she said.

"Having overcome the Sars epidemic, Chinese society is more mature and open".

Beijing and Hong Kong were declared free of Sars earlier this week.

However, the WHO has warned that there could be a resurgence of the disease if countries do not take care.

The ministers took heed, saying in their statement: "Controlling Sars requires continued vigorous surveillance and containment of new cases, intensive regional and global collaboration".

Globally, more than 8,000 people were infected and over 800 died in the outbreak, which centred on Beijing, Hong Kong and the Canadian city of Toronto.

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