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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 July, 2003, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Last Sars hotspot contained
Sars stamps in China
Sars has killed more than 800 people
The World Health Organization has said the global outbreak of the respiratory illness Sars has been contained as Taiwan was dropped from a list of virus hotspots.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) illness infected thousands of people around the world since the first cases appeared in China in November.

Taiwan was the last territory on the WHO warning list to go the mandatory 20 days without reporting a new case of the sickness.

WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said: "We do not mark the end of Sars today, but we observe a milestone. The global Sars outbreak has been contained.

"Based on country surveillance reports, the human chains of Sars virus transmission appear to have been broken everywhere in the world."

The highly contagious illness spread from Asia as far as South Africa and Canada, killing 812 people worldwide and infecting at least 8,400.

Deadly illness

As new cases were reported, countries were added to the WHO hotspot list and only removed after the 20 day safe period.

Taiwan eventually became the world's third major Sars hotspot with 84 deaths and around 682 infections.

A false sense of security could become our worst enemy
Dr David Heymann, WHO

China topped the list with 348 deaths and more than 5,300 cases, while Hong Kong registered 298 deaths out of 1,755 infections.

China and Hong Kong were dropped from the Sars-infected list last week.

The Canadian city of Toronto, which had the biggest outbreak outside of Asia with 39 deaths and almost 250 cases, was dropped from the list on Wednesday.

Despite clearing the hotspot list, the WHO says the world is not yet Sars-free and some cases may have slipped through the net.

The WHO's executive director of communicable diseases, Dr David Heymann, warned against becoming too complacent.

"A false sense of security could become our worst enemy," he said.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby says experts believe the virus may be a seasonal disease and could return later in the year.

She said it was also feared that the original source of the Sars outbreak may still be in the environment and could cross from animals to humans.

The BBC's Nick Thatcher
"The virus was first reported in southern China last year"

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