SINGAPORE: This republic reported a possible return of SARS yesterday, hours after the World Health Organisation (WHO) had warned the deadly virus could reappear.
The Ministry of Health said initial tests showed one man had tested positive for the pneumonia-like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus, in what it believed was an isolated case.
“Initial tests seem to indicate this person has the SARS virus, but we are doing further tests tonight,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
SARS originated in southern China and was spread early this year to 30 countries by travellers. It infected nearly 8,500 people globally and more than 800 died, including 33 here, where the government imposed strict health controls.
It hit Asia's economies hard as travellers cut flights, consumers stayed home and hotel rooms emptied. In this republic SARS triggered the nation's biggest-ever economic contraction in the April to June quarter.
The WHO had declared the global outbreak contained on July 5. It took this republic off a list of SARS-affected regions on May 31, about three weeks after its last patient was isolated.
The health ministry spokeswoman said the man undergoing tests, whom she described as ethnic Chinese, had been at Singapore General Hospital but was now isolated at the island's Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Health officials were investigating people who may have had contact with him, but it was unclear if a quarantine would be ordered or if wards at Singapore General Hospital would be temporarily closed.
The Ministry of Health will hold a news conference today at around 4pm, the spokeswoman said.
During this republic's last outbreak, around 8,000 people were quarantined. The island took aggressive measures to contain the disease, carrying out temperature checks at border points, hospitals and hotels, and installing closed-circuit TV cameras in homes to enforce the quarantine.
The virus, which is believed to have jumped from animals to humans in China late last year, cost billions of dollars in lost business and trimmed economic growth across Asia.
Only a few hours before this republic announced its fears of a new SARS case, the head of the WHO had warned health specialists meeting in Manila of a possible resurgence of the disease and urged nations to boost surveillance.
“None of us can predict what will happen later this year. Will SARS come back or not?” Director-General Lee Jong-wook told a five-day regional WHO meeting.
“We have to prepare on the assumption that this will come back. Our challenge now is to enhance surveillance networks that will detect and deal with SARS if it does come back.”
WHO officials have said they are not sure if SARS is a disease confined to winter months. – Reuters
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