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Mainland Reports No New SARS Cases for First Time (03/06/2003)
After months of pain and struggle generated by the SARS epidemic, the Chinese mainland on Monday saw the first substantive sign of progress -- no new daily SARS cases reported for the period from 10:00 am June 1 to 10:00 am June 2.

It is the first time that the Chinese mainland has had no new cases to report since the health authorities began daily reporting on April 20.

The same holds true for Beijing, the city worst hit by the SARS epidemic. The municipality reported no deaths for the one-day period, while the rest of China registered two new fatalities.

The long-awaited news, announced by the Ministry of Health (MOH), won applause from journalists at the press conference.

"In the fight against the SARS virus, mankind now stands in a more favorable position," said a Beijing-based journalist. "But we will have to fight for the final victory in this smokeless war."

Zhang Yi, a non-Beijing college student who just arrived in the capital for an internship opportunity, said, "The news has allowed me to relax since the institution where I will do my internship has accepted my application."

A total of 5,328 people nationwide have been confirmed with the infection, and 334 have succumbed to the disease. Another 1,499 people are still receiving treatment in hospitals.

While the media and public are hailing the positive outcome, health care experts are calling for calm and reason as well as more effective efforts.

Qi Xiaoqiu, director of the MOH's disease control bureau, says that the outcome indicates that the measures carried out by the Chinese government over the past months are taking effect.

"But it is not a reason for relaxation," says Qi. "Precautions are still necessary. We should be aware of the risks of a renewed SARS outbreak."

Deng Haihua, deputy director of the MOH's information office who has been busy with daily reporting, has refrained from celebrating. "We have taken notice of that, and we find it normal," he says.

Instead, he touched on the fluctuations -- which he explained is a normal feature of contagious diseases. "No new cases have been reported today, yet new cases could appear tomorrow," Deng says. "It is only decisive when no new case is recorded for 20 consecutive days, according to the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO)."

Wang Qishan, Beijing's acting mayor, who has earned a reputation for being outspoken, told WHO's China representative Henk Bekedam that Beijing would not relax its vigilance.

While conscious of the fact that the SARS epidemic is significantly easing up, Wang said that his city is capable of dealing with any renewed outbreak. He also said that there is a great deal of work to be done, including scientific research, diagnosis and treatment.

Liang Wannian, an infectious disease expert who is also deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau, revealed two major goals for the Beijing municipal government. One was the lifting of the travel advisory by the WHO and the other the declaration of Beijing as a SARS-free city by the UN health agency. Liang expressed optimism about achieving both of these objectives.

Lian Ji, vice-chairman of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is also optimistic.

The SARS epidemic, said Lian, has been brought under effective control in most parts of the region. In the next ten days, the regional government will fight to bring the disease under control in the entire region.

To achieve this goal, he said the government will warn the region's residents against letting down their guard and will redouble efforts to monitor the floating population.

In north China's port city of Tianjin, people were celebrating the 16th day with no new SARS cases.

Zhang Yu, director of the Tianjin Health Bureau, said, "We are shifting our focus to improving the cure rate."

The city is returning to normal. Retail and the catering service, which had been hit hard by the SARS outbreak, are experiencing recovery. The express train between Beijing and Tianjin is running again.

Despite this, Zhang said that his city is not letting down its guard. Temperature checking is still in effect in each county, and medical facilities in the city continue to maintain a high state of vigilance, he said.

In Beijing, subways and buses are again packed, while people with face masks can be seen everywhere.

Officials with the MOH are busy preparing for a SARS meeting slated for Tuesday, which will be attended by more than 100 experts and officials from Japan, the Republic of Korea, ASEAN countries and China. It is the first international meeting since the SARS outbreak occurred in the capital.

"We have been showered by good news today, but it is more important for us to be better prepared for tomorrow's meeting," said an MOH official named Guo. "It will play an important role in solving this global problem (SARS)."

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