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New Delhi (dpa) - The world has not seen the last of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and it will come back, Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, director-general of the World Health Organization, warned Thursday.
Lee told a news conference, SARS was the first disease of the 21st century, "but I suspect it is not the last. There will be many more like SARS".
He said SARS severely tested the surveillance capacity of WHO and the affected countries as it was an unknown disease that jumped from one place to another.
Asked whether the world had seen the last of SARS, Lee said: "The WHO working assumption is that it will come back."
SARS killed 916 people and devastated tourism industries worldwide after it first emerged in China last November. More than 8,400 people fell ill before WHO declared the disease had been stopped on July 5.
Lee said there was an alarm in Canada a few weeks ago that SARS had resurfaced, but a WHO team confirmed it wasnt the deadly virus.
Asked about a suspected case in Singapore, Lee said: In this case the symptoms are not like SARS, but the virus is like SARS. We dont know yet if it is SARS or a mutated virus. In the future there will be more reports like this.
The WHO chief said the devastating impact of SARS demonstrated that it was not just a public health problem, but also an economic, social and political issue.
An important lesson we learnt was that we have to be open and report it, discuss it. Covering up will not help solve problems, Lee said.
Asked about criticism from several Asian countries about WHO travel advisories that allegedly created worldwide panic and severely affected the travel industry, Lee said he would not hesitate to issue travel warnings in the future.
It is a difficult decision, but it is not to be made by political considerations. It is not to punish the place where there is an outbreak, but to protect the rest of the world.
Copyright 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH