IN its strongest signal yet that the war on SARS is far from over, the government served notice on Tuesday that it will come down hard on anyone who lies to a doctor about his symptoms or where he has travelled to.
Starting next week, everyone visiting a clinic or hospital will have to fill in a new patient declaration form and answer three questions:
·DO you have a fever, cough or breathing difficulties?
·HAVE you travelled overseas in the past 10 days and if so, where?
·HAVE you been in contact with a SARS patient?
Anyone caught lying can be fined up to S$10,000 (RM21,800) and jailed six months.
While the new laws put the onus on the patient to tell the truth, doctors are also expected to collect the information and pass it on to the ministry.
Those who fail to do so can also be fined and jailed.
The Health Ministry could have imposed these penalties any time after parliament passed amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act in April, but it is doing so only now – a month since the last SARS patient here was isolated.
Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang explained that the spread of SARS in hospitals has been contained and the threat of catching the bug in the community has been minimised. So the greatest risk now is of someone getting infected overseas and triggering a new outbreak here on his return.
There is still no reliable diagnostic kit, so the only anti-SARS weapons available to doctors are a patient's accurate travel history to a SARS-affected area and the first signs of symptoms like fever.
There are still about 150 to 200 people being screened for SARS daily at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, with 5% to 10% being warded for observation until their fever comes down or they are found to have dengue fever or some other illness. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network