Tougher laws passed to battle SARS

PARLIAMENT has passed tougher laws to contain the SARS scourge in a session marked by emotion and a precedent set by several members who addressed the chamber via a video link-up. 

The picture MPs presented was of a House doing its best to conduct business as usual in the most unusual of times. 

But even though the business was about passing laws, the mood was sombre. 

For the doctor MPs, it was about how close to home the deadly disease had struck. 

Ayer Rajah MP Tan Cheng Bock, who put himself in voluntary quarantine after treating a SARS patient, addressed Parliament from his home, via video link-up. 

There was silence as he related, in a wavering voice, how he felt when he found he had a rising temperature. 

“I was worried about my loved ones,” he said, as MPs watched, riveted at a blurry image of him. 

“I was worried about my grandson who's so close to me,” he added, with tears in his eyes. 

He said he was in full support of the tougher laws, especially on quarantine breakers, who endanger others. 

For MP Michael Lim, another doctor, speaking about almost losing a doctor friend to SARS also brought tears to his eyes. 

He paused, looked down, and seemed for several moments as though he would not be able to continue. 

When he did, he said it was precisely because the battle has been so tough that he supported the changes to the law to deal with quarantine breakers.  

“I'm in favour of more draconian measures,” he said. 

The changes to the Infectious Diseases Act, effective immediately, give the necessary powers to control the outbreak of SARS, said Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang. 

They will allow the Government to: 

·COME down hard on quarantine breakers. They can now be jailed for six months and fined S$10,000 (RM22,000) even for a first offence. The penalty doubles for subsequent offences. Quarantine prevents potential patients from passing the virus to others. 

·ISOLATE premises and even destroy goods and structures. Lim said this is to prevent an “Amoy Gardens” incident where about 300 people in Hong Kong came down with SARS because of sewage leaks. 

·PUNISH anyone who suspects he is infectious but leaves his home, thus putting others at risk. This applies only to specific diseases. Right now, SARS is the only such disease. 

·PUNISH anyone who gives false information or refuses to co-operate. Lim said people have refused to answer phone calls from the ministry, while others have lied. 

·APPLY strict burial and funeral rules to limit the possibility of the virus spreading, even in unconfirmed cases. 

All 18 MPs who spoke during the debate on the Bill argued passionately in favour of the measures. Some said they recognised that the laws might seem harsh but conceded there was no other way to win the fight against SARS. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network 

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