SARS fears recede as patient recovers

SINGAPORE: Fears of a new SARS outbreak receded in Singapore yesterday as a medical researcher treated for the deadly virus appeared to be recovering quickly and Taiwan ended mandatory temperature checks on Singapore travellers. 

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said countries across the globe must prepare for an onslaught of many more SARS-like illnesses in coming years, and urged governments to stay open and honest when confronted by such diseases. 

“SARS was the first disease in the 21st century, but it will not be the last one,” WHO director-general Lee Jong-wook said in New Delhi on Thursday. 

SARS infected nearly 8,500 people this year and killed more than 800, most of them in Asia. 

The 27-year-old Singapore man, a medical researcher, has had no fever for five days and could leave hospital early next week, though he would be quarantined for 14 days more, said Esther Wong, spokesman of the Health Ministry. 

“He'll be monitored for a couple of days more and if he's without fever he will be discharged by some time next week,” Wong said. 

“He's recovering fast.” 

Some of the anti-SARS measures put in place this week are being rolled back. Taiwan said it had dropped its rule forcing passengers arriving in Taiwan from Singapore to take their temperatures twice a day for 10 days. 

The man's swift recovery after genetic tests this week has raised doubts among some experts, including WHO scientists, over whether he had full-blown SARS. 

The WHO, which had declared the outbreak over in July, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta would each send two experts to Singapore next week to investigate two laboratories where the victim probably caught the virus. 

A laboratory accident or case of contamination could prove embarrassing for Singapore as it promotes itself as a regional bioscience and medical research hub. 

Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, urged all 13 laboratories worldwide doing SARS research to tighten safety controls. 

They are in Japan, the United States, Germany, Britain, Hong Kong and China. 

Already, the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong was ending its cultivation of the virus because its labs failed to meet WHO safety guidelines, Hong Kong authorities said.  

The work would be done elsewhere in Hong Kong with stricter sterilisation controls. – Reuters  

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