The Northern Virginia-based George Mason University has cancelled a proposed study tour of Tibet in the summer on account of the threat being posed by mysterious disease Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has spread in Hong Kong and parts of China. However, so far there have been no reports of SARS among Tibetans.

The Center for Global Education (CGE) at George Mason University had scheduled the Tibet tour between July and August this year as part of its program on “Borderlands: China and its Minority Peoples: An Anthropological Field Study.” The University provides study abroad opportunities for both its students and the general public.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended U.S. citizens to defer elective or non-essential travel to areas with a large number of SARS cases, including Mainland China and Hong Kong. The United States has authorized the departure of its non-essential diplomats from China.

The United Nations health agency has confirmed 79 deaths and more than 2,200 infections in 18 countries and territories due to SARS. Those WHO statistics do not include 17 suspected cases in Japan and the first suspected cases in Russia, Laos and the Chinese commercial hub of Shanghai, according to media reports.

Since the disease is being carried around the world by travelers, many governments are advising citizens against visiting affected areas in hopes of curbing the epidemic. In the Asia-Pacific region in particular, governments are imposing strict quarantines and urging citizens to wear facemasks.