Still no word from Singapore


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 22 May 2003

BY SUSAN TAM

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities have yet to receive word from Singapore on a Bangladeshi businessman who slipped through screening at the Changi airport on May 14 despite having a fever and cough and was in transit in KL International Airport, Health deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ismail Merican said. 

He said neither was any current information given on two more recent cases – the 39-year-old quantity surveyor and 26-year-old mosaic layer, adding that this was vital for local health officers to conduct contact tracing to prevent the spread of the illness. 

The quantity surveyor, a Malaysian with permanent resident status, had travelled twice to Johor from Singapore in early May. He fell ill in the republic on May 11 and was warded in Singapore on the same day.  

No information was received of this man’s contacts when he was in Johor. 

The Sabahan mosaic layer travelling back to the republic from Johor, was sent back to Johor for admission in Sultanah Aminah Hospital after SARS symptoms were detected at the Woodlands checkpoint on Sunday. 

He said Singapore’s slow response rate in this respect was “dangerous” as quick reaction was crucial to contain the disease. 

“We are very happy to investigate (cases with links to Malaysia), but we have not had any information from them. This is dangerous as the response rate has to be fast,” he told reporters at the daily SARS briefing at the ministry yesterday. 

On the response from Singapore on the Japanese tourist that he did not have a fever when he left Changi Airport, Dr Ismail said as far as Malaysia was concerned the tourist had a temperature. 

According to a May 15 report, local health authorities were told that the 19-year-old male tourist was found to have a fever even before he boarded the flight from Changi Airport to KL International Airport. He was heading back to Japan. 

“We had checked with Singapore officers but they gave us different messages. One told us that they missed detecting the man’s fever while the other said, in an email, that the tourist did not have a temperature. Who do we listen to?” he said. 

Dr Ismail was also asked to comment on Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoint Authority statement yesterday that its move to send back the mosaic layer at the border did not contravene an agreement among Asean members. 

Singapore said that the agreement, requiring countries not to refuse entry to SARS cases and to treat them in the country they arrived, applied only to air travellers. 

Dr Ismail said Malaysia worked on a humanitarian point of view. 

“If someone is sick in your country, it is the onus of your country to provide treatment for the patient, that is the principle behind it and not to shuttle the patient back and forth. But if the patient, for instance, a Malaysian who is sick in Singapore, insists on heading back to Malaysia to be treated, we will be prepared to pick him up.”  

He added that for the concerned country to admit the person was vital in minimising contact and minimising the problem. 

Dr Ismail said he would discuss with Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng on the next course of action, which could be to raise the matter with Singapore’s Health Minister or forward the matter to the Foreign Ministry.  

As of Tuesday evening, there were three notifications, out of which only one was a suspect SARS case – a 45-year-old Singaporean who lived in Malaysia and fell ill on May 17. The man has been warded in Kuala Lumpur Hospital. 

The number of people in hospitals nationwide is 18. The breakdown is: Kuala Lumpur (8), Perak and Selangor (four each), Penang and Johor (one each).  

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