SARS: ASIA DRAWS UP WAR PLAN

Bangkok, Thailand, April 30, 2003 -  Asian nations yesterday adopted a 
battle plan that includes setting up a special fund and a regional 
information network.

A joint declaration by the leaders of China, Hong Kong and 10 Southeast 
Asian countries including the Philippines said they would take "rigorous 
measures for immigration and Customs control to prevent the out-spread of 
SARS."

The precautions include pre-departure and arrival screening and better 
flight management.

A separate joint statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian 
Nations (ASEAN) said its leaders agreed upon 20 measures to combat SARS.

The ASEAN leaders also pledged to keep their borders and economies open 
despite the crisis, in a bid to keep the tourism industry alive. Tourism, 
the lifeblood of many ASEAN economies, has been badly hit by curtailed 
travels.

China proposed setting up an Asian fund to study and devise preventive 
measures against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and pledged initial 
seed money of $1.2 million.

The pledge was made during a meeting here between Chinese Premier Wen 
Jiabao and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who also promised to 
give $250,000 for the fund.

"This is not a fixed amount fund but will involve about 100 million baht 
($2.3 million)," Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai told 
reporters. Other Asian countries would be invited to join it, he said.

He did not give details of how the money would be used.

The ASEAN leaders said they recognize "the need for members to take 
individual and collective responsibility to implement stringent measures to 
control and contain the spread of SARS."

Wen and Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will join the ASEAN leaders 
at the summit, the first such international meeting to discuss Severe Acute 
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The summit is meant "to instill confidence among people around the world 
and show them that the region has come together to work closely and respond 
to this problem and has the situation under control," Thaksin told 
reporters separately.

Since it surfaced in China in November, SARS has killed at least 354 people 
worldwide and infected over 5,300 in more than 20 countries and has 
prompted travel advisories against affected countries.

Surakiart said China and Thailand also agreed that they would screen 
travelers before they leave their countries as one of the preventive measures.

The disease has taken a heavy toll on the regional economy with tourism 
slumping to an all-time low in ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, 
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand 
and Vietnam.

"By reaching across borders for common solutions, ASEAN is projecting the 
strong message that we are prepared to close ranks with the world to fight 
this threat to the end," President Arroyo said in a statement before the 
summit.

The President called upon her fellow ASEAN heads of state to forge a common 
program to contain the spread of SARS in the region.

"ASEAN nations are already doing their best individually, but forging a 
common program will multiply our individual strengths and reduce our 
weaknesses," she said yesterday at the summit, which was hastily organized 
in Bangkok.

The President will push for the ASEAN to put up a SARS fund to support the 
region’s newest health campaign.

Malacañang officials, however, said "they have no immediate plans" to 
attend an international conference on SARS that Canada reportedly plans to 
hold in Toronto this week.

On Monday, the World Health Organization said the worst is over in Hong 
Kong, Singapore and Toronto, while Vietnam has become the first country to 
contain the infectious respiratory disease.

But in China, SARS is spreading even as its government takes increasingly 
aggressive steps to halt the disease, the WHO said.

The organization’s chief of communicable diseases, David Heymann, was 
scheduled to brief the summit.

In China, 148 people have died and 3,303 have been infected. China has been 
widely criticized for failing to respond earlier to pleas for action to 
contain the disease. But officials there have been taking strong action in 
recent days, sacking Beijing’s mayor and the health minister and closing 
public schools and entertainment venues in the capital.

Surakiart, the Thai foreign minister, quoted the Chinese premier as saying 
that Tuesday’s summit is "very crucial."

"It is the time to regain the confidence of tourists and investors by 
putting in place good preventive measures to control SARS," Surakiart 
quoted the Chinese leader as saying.

Asian governments have already announced severe quarantine, travel 
restrictions and health checks at borders and airports. Taiwan on Monday 
began enforcing a mandatory 10-day quarantine for visitors arriving from 
areas hit hard by SARS.

The WHO lifted all travel advisories Monday for Vietnam, which had five 
deaths from SARS after the virus spread in February through Hanoi’s only 
international hospital. The government sealed off the hospital in a measure 
credited with halting any spread outside its doors. No new SARS cases have 
been reported in Vietnam since April 8.

The ASEAN-plus China session was the first meeting between Wen, who took 
office in March, and the leaders of ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, 
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand 
and Vietnam.

More than half of ASEAN members have reported SARS deaths: Singapore (22), 
Vietnam (5), Malaysia (2), Philippines (2) Thailand (2) and Indonesia (1). 
(Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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