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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Sars experts: 'We were too slow'
The Sars virus
A model of the Sars virus
Health experts have admitted they responded too slowly to the Sars outbreak.

Mark Salter, the specialist from the World Health Organization who is charged with stopping the disease spreading, said he believed it could be controlled.

But Dr Salter admitted the WHO had not always been "as responsive and as quick as some people might like" in the early stages of the disease.

"We have learned lots of lessons that we will be able to take forward."

We can push it back and control it and stop it spreading
Dr Mark Salter, World Health Organization
He said even those measures which had appeared "unusual" or "imprudent" had not been taken without great consideration.

He said the media had played a key role in spreading the initial alert about severe acute respiratory syndrome in March - because it had happened at a weekend.

Dr Salter, a virologist, said governments were not able to act swiftly at the weekend.

Economic impact

But he said Sars could be controlled.

"I think we can probably push it back into the box.

"We can push it back and control it and stop it spreading."

He added: "There are only two simple ways that we can control it.

"That is to detect early on those new cases - that can only be manifested by having good surveillance systems everywhere in the world."

His comments were in contrast to those of Tommy Thompson, US Health and Human Services Secretary, who warned this week Sars cases could rise in the autumn, leading to deaths "in all the continents."

Dr Salter denied there had been any political pressure on the WHO prior to its lifting of travel restrictions to Canada but accepted Sars was having an "unnecessary" impact on countries' economies.

More than 660 have been killed by Sars so far across the world, with almost 8,000 people thought to have been infected.

Asia has been worst hit, but Canada has seen 24 deaths.

Only one case has been confirmed in Britain, and the victim made a full recovery.

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