Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Letter

Tougher action needed

It is becoming increasingly clear that the SARS outbreak is out of control in Taiwan, perhaps even on a larger scale than Hong Kong.

Yet, distressingly, the government has not taken any drastic action to control the spread of the disease. I would strongly urge the government to take similar actions to those taken in Singapore.

The government seems paralyzed by indecision, and the politicians seem more interested in pointing the blame on the other political parties instead of solving the problem.

The news reports we have been getting are about the "plight" of the people quarantined at the various hospitals. It seems to me that the media has fed on this and has encouraged those people to protest even louder. They protest that their individual rights are being violated, but what of the rights of the rest of society?

Why don't the rest of the citizens protest in support of the government taking drastic actions and stamping out the disease for the benefit of everyone? Each day Taiwan remains on the WHO travel advisory list, millions of dollars are lost. Foreigners are not traveling to Taiwan to do business. The hotel and airlines industries hemorrhaging money and people may have to be laid off. Why don't those people protest for stronger government action and saving their jobs?

On a more personal level, my 90-year-old grandma is now afraid to go to hospitals, but she needs to go to the hospital on a regular basis to monitor and treat her heart condition.

The government has also blamed the World Health Organization (WHO) for not helping it sooner in its fight against SARS. But this excuse irrelevant. Ultimately, the government is responsible for the health of its people. In many ways, Taiwan is luckier than Hong Kong or Singapore, where the outbreak started two months earlier. Taiwan can learn from the experience of those places on fighting the disease and develop an effective tracking system to find those who have been exposed. And the harsh lesson is that the only way to control the spread of the disease is to quarantine those who have been exposed to the SARS virus.

The methods used in Singapore have proven to be extremely effective in controlling and even eradicating SARS. Singapore's government passed a new law in three days which authorized stiff fines and prison sentences to be meted out without going through court procedures. Those under quarantine are required to wear a wrist tag that monitors their location. Government health officials contact those under quarantine daily to make sure they are in their homes. Violators of quarantine orders have been fined and imprisoned. As a result, the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken it off their travel advisory lists.

Singapore is commonly criticized as a police state where the citizens have no rights. But in this kind of emergency situation, the government must be strong and have the courage to take unpopular actions. The government needs to make Taiwan safe for everyone.

Paul Chiu

Singapore

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