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WHO: Worst of SARS over in some countries

But spread continues in mainland China

Vietnamese Health Minister Tran Thi Trung Chien, left, talks with WHO officials Aileen Plant, center, and Pascale Brudon after announcing the containment of SARS in Vietnam.
Vietnamese Health Minister Tran Thi Trung Chien, left, talks with WHO officials Aileen Plant, center, and Pascale Brudon after announcing the containment of SARS in Vietnam.

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HANOI, Vietnam (CNN) -- A World Health Organization official said Monday that he believes the worst of SARS is over in Vietnam, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong but that the disease continues to spread in mainland China.

"We believe the outbreak has come to a peak in these areas because of information that ministries of health have given us," said Dr. David Heymann, WHO's executive director of communicable diseases.

"The governments have reported cases, and we see in each of these areas, the case reports are decreasing and becoming more stable so we believe the epidemic may have peaked in these countries."

WHO gave Vietnam a clean bill of health Monday for being the first nation to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"WHO congratulates Vietnam in being the first country in the world to contain SARS," said Pascale Brudon, WHO representative in Vietnam. "Such success can be attributed to a range of factors, but the most important were the speed of action, leadership and transparency shown by the government."

The cumulative number of SARS cases in Vietnam has held steady at 63 since April 12. That number includes deaths and previously reported cases since the status of a case may change over time, according to WHO.

Vietnam has reported five deaths from SARS.

The last person to be diagnosed with the disease has been in isolation since April 8 -- twice the typical 10-day incubation period.

Canada sees progress

Caseloads also have been dropping in Canada, where there hasn't been a case in 12 days outside of a hospital.

"We certainly hope to be in the clear very shortly," said Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health. "... So far the signs are pointing very, very positively."

China's Health Ministry on Monday reported 203 new cases on the mainland, including 96 in Beijing. Mainland China has 3,106 cases. Eight more people have died from SARS in the last day in China, including three in the Chinese capital, which has 1,199 cases. The disease has killed 59 people in Beijing.

Despite daily briefings by China's Health Ministry, it's impossible to tell how many newly reported cases are actually new and how many may be old figures trickling in slowly.

For months, Chinese authorities underreported SARS figures and gave assurances that they were on top of the situation. Then more than a week ago, the Health Ministry admitted it had failed to give guidance in dealing with SARS, a revelation that led to the firing of the health minister as well as the Beijing mayor.

"To control SARS, it is essential to identify the cases very fast and isolate them properly so they cannot pass the disease onto others, and Vietnam did this very well," said Brudon, the WHO representative.

Vietnam was the second country to be hit by the recently recognized respiratory illness. The first was China, where an outbreak began in the southern Guangdong Province in November.

Nearly 4,500, or about 90 percent, of global SARS cases are in mainland China and Hong Kong.

In an attempt to keep the disease from entering Vietnam, the country's northern Quang Ninh Province has begun barring Chinese tourists at the overland border. Vietnam's Ministry of Health has recommended that the border be sealed indefinitely, WHO said.

Through Monday, WHO reports a global total of 5,050 SARS cases, including 321 deaths in 26 countries. According to WHO, 2,342 patients have recovered.

Correspondent Lisa Rose Weaver contributed to this report.

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