May 23 2003 -- In a sure sign that the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic is abating, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday lifted its travel advisories against Hong Kong and the neighboring province of Guangdong, since the outbreaks there are now under control. This is a boon to travelers who want to visit China's favorite tourism destination, the former British Crown Colony.
Already -- despite many businesses in the USA being closed early for the long Memorial Day Weekend -- a few industrious tour operators have announced or reconfirmed plans for reinstating or increasing their programs for Hong Kong, though none could give specifics as the American holiday began. Among the operators are Pacific Best, Uniworld and Grand Holidays, none of which have the new plans on their websites as yet.
Lily Shum, Director for The Americas of the Hong Kong Tourism Board said "tour operators, airlines, hotels and our other marketing partners have been busy creating a wealth of offers to tempt travelers with enticing 'hot deals'?especially designed for US travelers." According to Lilibeth Bishop of the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Los Angeles office, reaction to the news has been "fantastic, with tour operators calling in for more information." Diana Budiman, of the Board's New York office, indicated a similar flood of inquiries requesting confirmation of WHO's action.
WHO said the number of new cases in Hong Kong has averaged less than five for the past six days, while the number of infections has fallen below 60 cases. In Guangdong province, the average of new cases has fallen below five for the past 11 days and the number of persons in hospital with SARS has fallen below 60 three days ago.
"Guangdong was the first place in the world to have cases of SARS, but I am pleased to note that due to the efforts of the local and national health authorities, with support from WHO, the outbreaks in Guangdong and Hong Kong are being contained," said WHO's Director-General, Gro Harlem Brundtland.
WHO is continuing its travel advisory against visiting Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Hebei and Inner Mongolia, as well as Taiwan, where new cases continue to be reported, including one of an American doctor from the CDC (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) who visited Taipei to study the outbreaks.
For more information on SARS and WHO, visit the organization's website, www.who.int/en (formerly www.who.org). For more information on Hong Kong, see www.discoverhongkong.com/usa. Information on the rest of China can be had at the China National Tourism Office's website, www.cnto.org.