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Function to mark the end of "SARS" - Marian Hobbs

Speech Notes: Hon Marian Hobbs

Function to mark the end of "SARS", Chinese Embassy, Wellington

We are pleased to join with you in celebrating the containment of SARS in China. Now life can begin to return to normal for all of us.

Although SARS outbreaks have been confined to a few countries they have impacted on the whole Asia Pacific region. All of us have suffered economically. In New Zealand we have seen a downturn in our tourism and education sectors and in exports for the hotel and restaurant trade.

Disruption to our daily lives in New Zealand has not of course been anything like that experienced in China. We extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Chinese people for the suffering caused by SARS.

It was in recognition of this suffering that New Zealand decided to make a contribution to assist China's efforts to battle the disease. Some of the funding was channelled through the World Health Organisation which coordinates the response to SARS in China and some through the

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which works with the Chinese Red Cross to improve preparedness and capacity to handle infectious diseases.

SARS has taught us important lessons in global and regional cooperation. A key lesson has been the importance of international information sharing, openness and transparency. It is critical that governments cooperate regionally and with specialist agencies such as WHO when emergencies might ultimately affect the whole global health environment.

At the recent APEC Health Ministers meeting in Thailand attended by my colleague the Minister of Health Annette King and China's Vice Premier and Health Minister, Wu Yi (pronounced Woo Yee) agreement was reached on common screening procedures in dealing with SARS and the need for a common action plan for APEC nations, including a coordinated approach to things like travel advisories and border control measures. Meetings such as these should ensure that we handle future outbreaks more effectively and, hopefully, that the impact will be less widespread and severe.

SARS is for the moment contained but we cannot afford to be complacent. Ongoing monitoring and preventive measures need to remain in place for some time to come to ensure that the virus does not resurface. Our Ministry of Health, which has coordinated the government response to SARS, removed all affected areas from its travel advisory earlier this month. We will, however, continue to review the situation regularly including maintaining surveillance for any possible new cases.

As the threat of SARS recedes, life in our region is beginning to return to normal. There are already signs that the recovery has started and indications that much of the impact will be temporary. People to people links are being restored and it should not be long before we see a return to business as usual, including the resumption of high-level exchanges between our two countries. We look forward to making up for the ground that has been lost as a consequence of SARS.


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