Hong Kong on high SARS alert

HONG KONG: Hong Kong was on high alert for a possible return of the deadly SARS virus after Singapore authorities revealed a new case, a health department spokesman said yesterday.  

“Hong Kong will closely monitor developments and remain on high alert,” after a Singaporean man tested positive for the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the spokesman said. 

Hong Kong, which was one of the worst affected regions by the SARS outbreak earlier this year with 297 deaths from nearly 1,800 infections, was only declared free of the pneumonia-like virus on July 23. 

A Singaporean reads a newspaper with a reassuring headline on Tuesday 09 September 2003, after a new SARS case was discovered three months after the city state saw its last case - APApic

Surveillance and preventive measures have been in place, and health checks on travellers from Singapore are being enhanced at Hong Kong International Airport, the spokesman said. 

“We have also sent letters to all doctors to be on alert, informing them of the suspected SARS case in Singapore,” he said. 

Health Secretary Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong said initial investigations showed the suspected SARS patient in Singapore was believed not to have any connection with Hong Kong. 

Yeoh said Hong Kong was prepared to deal with any re-emergence of SARS in the city. 

He noted that an agreement had been reached with Guangdong, the suspected source of the original outbreak, to swap information on communicable diseases. 

The lack of co-operation between the two sides was criticised during the SARS outbreak. 

Dr Liu Shao-shuei, convenor of the central committee on control of communicable disease of the Hospital Authority, said in a radio programme yesterday that the authority had stepped up monitoring and would make available some 1,200 isolation beds by the end of the month. 

“Personal protective gear for medical workers should be adequate for at least three months,” he said. 

The public was also urged to pay special attention to personal and environmental hygiene. 

In Hanoi, Vietnamese health authorities said Vietnam has remained vigilant for new SARS cases since the end of the first outbreak of the virus and is not planning new measures after the discovery of the Singapore case. 

“We have kept in place all control and prevention measures against SARS at borders and airports,” an official from the Institute of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi said. 

Airports at Hanoi, Danang and the southern financial centre of Ho Chi Minh City have been equipped with thermal-imaging equipment to monitor the body temperatures of passengers since the end of May. 

Passengers arriving in Vietnam must also fill out medical questionnaire aimed at identifying the initial symptoms of the disease. – AFP  

For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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