New SARS case baffles investigators


SINGAPORE: A scientist who tested positive for the SARS virus in the world's first reported infection for three months may well have caught it in a laboratory, Singapore said yesterday. 

Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Singapore's junior health minister, said the laboratory where the man worked had been temporarily shut and the man himself posed no significant health risk to others. 

ALL GEARED UP:Tan Tock Seng Hospital staff at work after health experts say that the SARS case is likely to be just asingle episode and not the start of another epidemic. - APpic

“The laboratory is involved on work with SARS,” he told Reuters Television in Manila. “If further testing confirms that he did have exposure to SARS, the most likely source of the SARS virus is maybe the laboratory itself.” 

The man's condition put Asia on alert for a resurgence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which spread to 30 countries earlier this year after originating in southern China, infecting nearly 8,500 people globally and devastating regional economies. 

More than 800 died, including 33 in Singapore. 

Officials urged Singapore's four million residents to remain calm, stressing the low public health risk from the infected scientist, who had been isolated since Monday and was recovering quickly. 

“He has no fever now,” said Bey Mui Leng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, adding that the man should be released from a treatment centre next week. “He is recovering.” 

Twenty-five people who had contact with the man have been quarantined, facing the risk of heavy fines or even jail if they leave home. 

Official reassurances that the case looks isolated helped Singapore's dollar and stock market recover from losses on Tuesday, but Asian airlines slid on fears travellers would avoid Asia, as they did in droves during the outbreak earlier in 2003. 

Shares in airlines such as Japan Airlines System, Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong and Eva Airways in Taiwan suffered losses of 4% or more. 

In Hong Kong, where SARS killed about 300 people earlier this year, the stock market was down nearly 2% in afternoon trade on fears of a revival of the flu-like illness and on weakness in US stocks. 

Although the case could mark the return of SARS, Singaporeans were calm. Many feel protected by the government's swift use of extraordinary health controls during its last battle with the disease and authorities have maintained a high degree of vigilance since then. – Reuters  

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

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