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WHO's assessment came as the national government insisted China was a safe place to live — and, just as importantly, to visit.

"The number of cases is going down," WHO team spokesman Chris Powell said. "There are still new cases — which is very sad — but the number of cases from what we've seen is going down."

In Hong Kong, official figures also show a decrease, reports CBS News' Katherine Arms, with 23 new cases recorded Wednesday. But the authorities have still closed schools for three more weeks.

Authorities in Hong Kong searched Thursday for 16 people who failed to report to health officials under a quarantine order. In Thailand, a French warship steaming to a tropical resort was turned away because it had come from SARS-hit Singapore.

And in tightly controlled Singapore, anti-SARS measures cropped up in unexpected places: A broadcaster said it would stop filming in front of live TV audiences while a zoo stopped allowing tourists to get close to its orangutans, fearing their primates would get infected.

The disease has killed at least 79 people in Asia and Canada — 46 of them in mainland China — and sickened at least 2,200 in more than a dozen nations as infected travelers board planes and reach other continents in hours.

No cure has been found, and scientists have not confirmed what causes SARS, though health officials say most sufferers recover with timely hospital care. Symptoms include high fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

In Singapore, where authorities also have closed schools, the Health Ministry said a 78-year-old woman died Wednesday, raising the island nation's death toll to five.

WHO also reported a new case in Vietnam, which thought it had the disease under control. The 67-year-old man had stayed in the Hanoi French Hospital in the Vietnamese capital, where the country's outbreak began in February.

The WHO team arrived in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, after days of awaiting permission. Members want to study how patients might have contracted SARS and what Chinese doctors learned from treating it.

Powell said the team had been provided "very detailed information" about people in Guangdong who got SARS, how they got sick and what kind of treatment they received. The team expects to stay in the province until Tuesday and hopes to interview patients and doctors directly.

"There are many, many steps before you figure out where a disease started," Powell said. "What's important now is we have a flow of information."

He said the numbers given by Guangdong health authorities seemed sound — a delicate issue given the increasing international criticism that China's response to SARS has been sluggish.

"The WHO is not a police force. We can't bang the table and say, `Do this, do that'," he said. But "we have no reason to doubt the figures that are conveyed to us."

Despite the deaths and sick people, Health Minister Zhang Wenkang insisted Wednesday that it is "safe to live in China."

"I say to you here, as Minister of Public Health, that the epidemic of atypical pneumonia has been put under effective control," Zhang said at a packed news conference in Beijing on Thursday.

He implored people who had canceled travel to China to reconsider — contradicting a WHO advisory suggesting that travelers avoid Guangdong. But he said he wasn't sugarcoating the situation.

"I'm not an agent for an airline trying to sell plane tickets to travel in China," Zhang said. He dodged questions about why China had not responded more quickly, saying it had "followed Chinese law" for releasing information.

China's moves this week toward appearing more open came after mounting foreign criticism of its reluctance to release information.

On Thursday, state newspapers moved to assure the public that their government was handling the situation, running front-page articles on a Cabinet meeting led by Premier Wen Jiabao that reviewed efforts to combat the outbreak. The same newspapers until now carried minimal coverage of the disease.

"The epidemic has been brought under control," said a dispatch by the official Xinhua News Agency that appeared in the mass-market Beijing Daily, the Communist Party's People's Daily and other papers.

The report didn't mention the announcement Wednesday by WHO and 음성출장마사지 Chinese authorities of 12 more deaths in February and March from SARS. China also suggested it was too early to say where SARS began.

In Guangzhou, on a humid Thursday afternoon, the streets were bustling. Public parks and malls were filled and traffic was moving slowly. Only a handful of people were wearing masks.

"Everything is normal," said Yang Yongmo, a taxi driver. "There's nothing to be scared of. It's harder to get sick than you think."

At the height of the scare in early February, many residents didn't leave their homes unless it was necessary, he said, and rice, salt and oil were hot items in stores.

Even now, he takes a daily dose of Chinese medicine said to prevent disease. "I don't know if it works," he said, "but I do it to be safe."

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