Lee warns of SARS fallout

SARS could have catastrophic consequences for Singapore if not controlled, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned yesterday, pledging the government would muster all resources to fight the outbreak. 

Outlining a national action plan to combat SARS, Lee said in Parliament thermometers would be distributed to every household so families could take their temperatures, fever being one of the symptoms of the disease. 

An allowance of up to S$70 (RM147) a day would also be given to people who are put under a mandatory 10-day home quarantine because they may have come into contact with SARS, he said. 

“The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a grave threat to Singapore. It has taken a heavy toll on our public health, our economy and society,” said Lee, who is also the finance minister. 

LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong getting his temperature taken upon arrival at Parliament House Thursday. All attending Parliament had to get theit temperature checked.- APpic

The health ministry has reported 15 confirmed SARS deaths here out of 189 infections, with two other fatalities being investigated to see if they are related to SARS. 

“We have to muster all our resolve and resources in order to fight SARS. Then we can bring the SARS outbreak under control, restore confidence, boost morale and get the economy moving,” Lee said. 

“If we fail to do so and allow the disease to overwhelm us, the consequences will be catastrophic,” he said. 

Parliament was due today to pass amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act that would impose fines of S$5,000 (RM10,550) on those who break home quarantine orders without even charging them in court. 

Singapore's tourism-related sectors and aviation industry has borne the brunt of the fallout from SARS as travellers avoid East Asia for fear of catching the virus, prompting the government to lower this year's economic growth targets to 0.5-2.5% from 2-5%. 

Lee said he expected every Singaporean household – estimated to number roughly 923,000 as of 2000 – to get thermometers by June so families could monitor their temperatures daily. 

Each member of the country's armed forces will be issued a thermometer before the end of the month. They will have to take their temperatures twice daily to ensure the army is SARS-free “while maintaining its operational readiness” to defend Singapore, Lee said. 

“Every home should have a thermometer. Every Singaporean should know how to take his temperature so that he can take personal responsibility for his own health and monitor his own and his family's temperatures,” Lee said. 

Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang said his ministry has ordered more than one million thermometers. Lee said it would take a month or two to obtain and distribute the instruments across the city-state, as well as teach people how to use them. 

Lee said the unemployment rate in the city-state of 4.2 million people was expected to worsen this year beyond the 4.2% recorded in December, with tourism-related sectors and the transport industry bearing the brunt of retrenchments. 

“The economic cost will continue to grow as long as the virus is on the loose but if it is contained, recovery should be soon and coming,” said Lee, who last week announced a S$230mil (RM485mil) package to help businesses most affected by the SARS fallout. – AFP  

  • Another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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