Apec ministers agree on ‘action plan’ to fight SARS

BANGKOK - Asia Pacific trade ministers pledged yesterday to utilise all resources at their disposal and to work more closely with the WHO to eradicate the SARS virus from the Asian region. At the end of the two-day meeting, an action plan to tackle SARS was put forward by ministers which aims to build public confidence by establishing a common set of guidelines for health screening procedures, as well as to encourage cooperation on prevention and treatment of SARS and new emerging diseases. In addition, the action plan highlighted the need for the exchange of accurate and timely information and the best treatment methods, along with an affective communications strategy that would assess the impact of SARS on the region’s travel industry. Thai commerce minister Adisai Bodharamik, who chaired the talks among the trade ministers of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation grouping, said it was crucial that Apec responded quickly and effectively to the challenges SARS had created. “Our coordinated response to combat SARS must be transparent and add value to both natural and international initiatives. The fact that some member economies have effectively controlled and contained SARS makes us more confident that, with proper coordinated measures, we can win the battle against the disease and mitigate its impact on trade and investment,” Adisai said. The Asian Development Bank reported that economic growth rates across Asia have fallen due to the impact of SARS. According to ADB figures growth in Hong Kong has declined 1.8 percent, Singapore by 1.1 percent, Taiwan by 0.9 percent and China by 0.2 percent. The SARS action plan also proposes a public relations campaign to promote tourism and provide travellers with clear and update information about each member country that would allay fears about the risks of catching the disease. The action plan stated: “The fear of SARS is more harmful than SARS itself. The unwarranted fear of SARS has deterred people from travelling, depressed the tourism and transport sectors and eroded confidence in regional travel and investment.”

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