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APEC Action Plan on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

The APEC region has borne the full brunt of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. This contagious disease, which has already taken a number of human lives, has also caused a severe economic downturn in many member economies. Diminished business confidence, reduced business travel, and increased transaction costs because of health measures have all affected trade and investment flows. Reduced travel has had an especially severe effect on the airline, travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors. If left unchecked, SARS could affect the well-being of our peoples and further undermine economic growth and prosperity.
APEC must therefore respond quickly and effectively to this challenge. Our coordinated response to combat SARS must be transparent and add value to both national and international initiatives. The fact that some member economies have effectively controlled and contained SARS make us more confident that, with proper coordinated measures, we can win the battle against SARS and mitigate its impacts on trade and investment.
In its response to SARS, APEC is conscious that its actions must acknowledge fully and complement the excellent work of the WHO in responding to and containing the spread of SARS.
The APEC Emerging Infectious Information Network (EiNet), established to facilitate information sharing on emerging infectious diseases, can contribute to the early detection and prevention of new infectious diseases, such as SARS. All APEC member economies are therefore encouraged to provide to the APEC EiNet information of their experiences which have proved to be effective and helpful in containing and treating SARS. However, as SARS has proven to be beyond the ability of any single economy to contain and control, APEC member economies are determined to strengthen regional cooperation to win the battle with SARS. On 26 April 2003, Health Ministers of ASEAN, China, Japan and Korea met in Kuala Lumpur and agreed to adopt cooperation measures to prevent and control the spread of SARS. Three days later, the Leaders of ASEAN and China met in Bangkok and reaffirmed their commitment to full and speedy implementation of measures to restore the security, safety and confidence of people throughout the East Asian region. The cooperative framework agreed during those meetings could be enhanced and, where appropriate, adopted by APEC.
It is important that APEC member economies agree to confront this common threat by adopting a multi-faceted approach to dealing with SARS, utilizing all necessary means and resources within the APEC community, and working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure that SARS is contained. To this end, we have proposed an APEC Action Plan for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which aims to build public confidence through:
  • a common set of guiding principles for health screening procedures for travelers;
  • encouraging cooperation towards prevention and treatment of SARS along with other emerging diseases;
  • exchanging accurate and timely information and best practices, including a credible communications strategy that addresses the consequences of SARS on travel.
Within APEC, all APEC's committees, Working Groups and Fora have been tasked to assess the impact of SARS in areas relevant to their work. They have been asked to assist in containing the spread of SARS as soon as possible and minimize its impact on APEC. The strategy to win the battle of SARS contains several measures that shall be implemented immediately and in the medium to longer terms. The agreed measures are:
Immediate Steps
a. Information sharing
Giving full, accurate and timely information is an essential part of building public awareness of the infectious disease and facilitating early detection and prevention of the spread of disease. We endorse the APEC Secretariat's webpage on "APEC Response to SARS" as a focal point for information sharing among APEC member economies. The webpage provides the following information:
SARS situation in APEC economies A contact point on SARS in each economy is given to facilitate instant information exchange and cooperation. Each economy will be hyperlinked to its Ministry of Health or equivalent agency responsible for SARS. APEC member economies have undertaken to update the information on a regular basis. The webpage would also include hyperlinks to other relevant agencies, and also up-to-date information for travelers such as travel advisories and regulations for both incoming and outgoing travelers, including any relevant visa or entry restrictions and airport health screening procedures. This will facilitate the exchange of best practices and increase transparency.
Hyperlink to the APEC Infectious Information Network (EiNet) This provides information for health officials and researchers on SARS and other emerging infectious diseases.
Other useful information Links to other relevant international organizations such as the WHO and ASEAN SARS Containment Information Network.
In addition, member economies shall endeavor to inform the public and officials on the nature of SARS and its prevention to reduce unnecessary fear. The business community, through the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), local Chambers of Commerce and Business Associations, should also be briefed regularly to assure uninterrupted business activity. The tourism and airline sectors should also be informed of the best practices, including good ethics, in dealing with clients suspected of SARS infection and/or other emerging diseases. As appropriate, the APEC Secretariat could work with APEC fora to develop communications products for an APEC-wide audience. This may be particularly useful in the case of the Tourism Working Group. The APEC Secretariat, the Committee on Trade and Investment (CTI) and ABAC could also cooperatively develop communications products aimed at the business community.
b. Strengthening a credible Infectious Diseases Strategy for APEC
We ask the Industrial Science and Technology Working Group (ISTWG) to provide feedback to SOM as soon as possible on how the APEC Infectious Diseases Strategy and its associated network can add value to the work of other organizations fighting the SARS epidemic. In doing this, the ISTWG should seek input from the WHO on how the APEC Infectious Diseases Strategy can best be used to support international and national efforts to combat SARS. In addition, the ISTWG proposals on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness shall be given a fast-track approach to build capacity for response and information sharing for all infectious outbreaks, including SARS, to allow the project to begin in August or September 2003.
c. Promoting Common Guiding Principles on Health Screening at Borders for Air travelers
The fear of SARS is more harmful than SARS itself. The unwarranted fear of SARS has deterred people from traveling, depressed the tourism and transport sectors, and eroded confidence in regional trade and investment. Rather than a blanket ban on travel, a measured approach that focuses on isolation and containment should be used for health screening at borders.
The coordinated measures on health screening at borders adopted by the Special Meeting of ASEAN + 3 Ministers of Health on SARS in Kuala Lumpur on 26 April 2003 could be endorsed by APEC economies as the starting point for developing a common and transparent set of guiding principles to assure the safety of all travelers. These measures include:

  • Pre-departure screening of all passengers from SARS affected areas to prevent the spread of SARS to other economies and boost the confidence of the international community in the APEC region. ASEAN members have already adopted health screening for outbound flights from ASEAN airports. This has been applied by other APEC economies declared by the WHO as SARS affected areas. Pre-departure screening will be conducted in conformance with WHO guidelines and may involve the completion of a standardized health declaration card and a temperature check before boarding the vessel. APEC health and border control officials should expedite agreement on standard information that should be provided on health declaration cards.
  • Screening of all arriving passengers from areas with recent transmission of SARS shall also be conducted to ensure effective control of SARS transmission. No passenger shall be refused entry due to suspected SARS infection. The host economy shall allow any individual suspected of having contracted SARS to seek medical treatment within the host economy. Health Ministers and all relevant Ministers in charge of border controls will be asked to work together to develop a common set of protocols for air travel.
  • APEC member economies shall inform each other in a timely manner of SARS cases that have traveled between members. This will allow contact tracing to be carried out to identify persons with possible infections, thus arresting any potential spread of SARS. Economies should use existing communications channels, including the WHO, to share this information.
  • APEC member economies shall promote best practices and good ethics among officials to enable others to learn and benefit from such practices. Medically advanced APEC members could also provide technical assistance and capacity building to other APEC members to facilitate prompt responses to the epidemic.
d. Promoting Common Guiding Principles on Health Screening at Borders for Land and Sea Travelers
In the case of land and sea travel, economies which share common land borders and/or which have regular point-to-point sea-links may establish, as appropriate, a common set of protocols in order to contain and prevent the spread of SARS at land and sea checkpoints.
Medium and long-term Steps
a. Impact on Tourism
The Tourism Working Group has been tasked to prepare a paper on an APEC Strategy to address the impact of SARS in the tourism and airline sectors. A communications strategy, including travel advice and best practices for tour operators and relevant agencies, will be developed and disseminated. APEC, through the APEC Secretariat's website, will play a role in promoting these best practices so that we facilitate the containment of the disease while, at the same time, not unduly hindering the flow of people.
b. Trade Facilitation
The CTI has prepared a plan of action dealing with the impact of SARS on trade, investment and business mobility. This plan focuses on promoting overall transparency in the implementation of measures in response to SARS. CTI sub-fora have been tasked to provide an early assessment of the effect of SARS in areas such as business mobility, trade in services and how their work could mitigate the adverse effects of the SARS epidemic. This includes promoting mutual recognition of screening procedures to minimize inconvenience for travelers. We encourage the CTI to continue to identify measures in dealing with SARS which will help restore the business confidence in the region.
c. Economic impact
The Economic Committee (EC) has prepared a preliminary report on the economic impact of SARS. The report includes details of economies' experiences in developing economic packages to assist those adversely affected by SARS.
In its second meeting during 13-16 May 2003 in Tokyo, ABAC held a workshop on SARS to assess the impact of SARS on business in the Asia Pacific region and to discuss ABAC's response to this issue. ABAC's conclusions stressed the need for scientifically based, timely, and transparent information both within the business community and the general public on SARS. ABAC also emphasised the need to streamline border controls to ensure that screening procedures and appropriate health safeguards are implemented in a manner which does not unduly restrict business mobility. ABAC members also urged that SARS control measures do not become a non-tariff barrier to trade and that regional disease control capacity be strengthened to respond to future crises.
ABAC's response to SARS will be incorporated in ABAC's 2003 Interim Report to APEC Economic Leaders. In addition to presenting the Interim Report to the meeting of APEC Trade Ministers in Khon Kaen, Thailand, during 1-3 June 2003, the ABAC Chair will report to SOM on the outcomes of their discussion on SARS during the SOM Retreat session on 28 May 2003. Feedback from ABAC would be helpful to guide APEC?s response to the SARS crisis. In addition, ABAC is urged to make use of its business network to disseminate accurate and timely information on SARS to the region's business community.
e. Science and Technology
The Industrial Science and Technology Working Group (ISTWG) has been tasked to strengthen cooperation in developing common standards for the monitoring and reporting of infectious diseases, as well as other public health issues. Networks among medical institutions of member economies should be set up to provide prompt information on emerging infectious diseases. The ISTWG should Review its ability to develop a capacity building plan for health related emergency preparedness and report back to SOM before SOM III.
Given the urgency of this matter, the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) will be asked to endorse the preceding trade and investment facilitation measures in response to SARS to ensure that the fear of SARS will not be used as a pretext to protectionism or raising non-tariff barriers that restrict the movement of people and goods. As a follow up to the call by the Leaders of ASEAN during its Special Meeting on SARS in Bangkok on 29 April 2003, APEC member economies have agreed to hold a Special Meeting of APEC Health Ministers in Bangkok on 28 June 2003. We ask colleagues from the Health Ministry to discuss as soon as possible the agenda of the meeting as well as the development of a strategy to combat SARS.