But the province's outbreak is still not under control, warns a WHO official For the first time in more than five months of fighting Sars, Guangdong residents began to heave a sigh of relief late last week. The number of new cases was in a slow decline and no deaths had been reported for eight consecutive days. It was a welcome break and a sign that the end of the serious outbreak may be in sight. For the eight days to May 3, no deaths were reported and the number of new cases averaged 6.6 a day, ranging between a high of 13 and a low of three. Beijing was becoming the focus of the outbreak and Guangdong seemed like yesterday's news. Then, on May 4, there were four deaths and 13 new cases. It was a sharp reminder that Sars is still around. World Health Organisation and local experts agree that the falling numbers are encouraging, but that there are still tough times ahead. In Manila, WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley said the outlook is positive, but he would not use the phrase 'under control'. 'The numbers are excellent by comparison with three or four weeks ago. There are no deaths, very few infections among medical workers. Quite clearly, Guangdong has a grip on the problem,' he said. 'What we are worried about is not what's happening in Guangdong. We are worried about Guangdong being reseeded by viruses brought in by travellers. We think it's continuing to spread given the nature of travel in China,' he said. Guo Xingbo, a professor at the Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, echoed the WHO's assessment, saying it was far too early to stop being cautious. Professor Guo called the decline in the official number of cases credible, given the heavy pressure from the central government for transparency in handling the reporting of the illness. 'Every work unit has to report every fever case and every hospital is treating fever cases separately,' he said. 'People are not so bold as to report falsehoods. Leaders are held responsible for the spread of the illness so they can't help but be serious or face losing their jobs.' Moreover, the movement of people is tightly controlled in the province. Universities have cancelled seminars and meetings and are prohibiting outsiders from entering campuses and students from leaving. Factories have ordered migrant workers to stay in their hostels. Since the first reported case of atypical pneumonia in Foshan in mid-November, Guangdong's hospitals have treated 1,454 Sars patients. Fifty-five people have died while 1,245 have recovered and been discharged. The measures show the government's determination to control the illness, and if these measures are effective and no new cases are reported over the next 10 consecutive days, Guangzhou can, technically, declare the outbreak over. But by Professor Guo's assessment, given the number of new cases still being reported, that is going to take two more months. 'If, within the next two weeks, we still have new cases, it would show that there are loopholes in the measures and it would take us a month to get things under control. I would say two months, to really give people confidence,' he said. Two months seems optimistic. China is a nation on the move and Guangdong is a magnet for employment-seeking migrants. It will take the strictest surveillance and hygiene measures to keep the virus out. And as long as the illness is not controlled in other provinces, it cannot be said to be under control in Guangdong or in Hong Kong.