Mon, May 19, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Health chief declines to punish doctor

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A mother comforts her son as his temperature is taken at the Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei yesterday. The hospital has set up an outdoor clinic next to its emergency room to screen for SARS cases.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The Department of Health (DOH) apologized to Japan again yesterday for triggering a panic over SARS but said it was not considering disciplinary action against a Taiwanese doctor listed as a probable SARS case who visited the country.

The Taipei Mackay Memorial Hospital doctor, surnamed Chou, visited Japan from May 8 to last Tuesday and has since been listed as a probable SARS case.

"We fell very sorry about the situation. So far, however, we have not discussed any punishment because the doctor visited Japan with no intention of spreading the virus," DOH Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said yesterday.

Chen said health-care workers battling SARS have been under extreme stress and taking vacations overseas was acceptable.

"However, at this time, health-care workers should try to avoid traveling overseas in order to avoid exporting SARS cases," Chen said.

Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) under the DOH will soon notify the Taipei City Government, which supervises the hospital, that the case requires further investigation.

Chen said the hospital deserved support after making a courageous apology to Japan.

At a hospital press conference on Saturday, Japanese reporters said they had trouble understanding why regulations on health-care workers in Taiwan were not tighter.

A hospital spokesman said an unidentified Japanese journalist raised "irrelevant" questions in an emotional and aggressive matter.

"Can you tell me if the doctor was going to Japan for prostitution?" the journalist said.

"I think your question is irrelevant," hospital spokesman Kuo Hsu-ta (郭許達) replied.

"Did you ask him [Chou the question]?" the reporter said, raising his voice.

"I have no idea of what you mean, but in Taiwan, we all know who is buying sex," Kuo said.

Also at the press conference, Kuo bowed and apologized for having caused a SARS scare in Japan.

Chen said he understands how Japanese people feel, but hopes certain members of the media can treat the matter rationally.

"Facing Japan, Taiwan is now in an indefensible position just like the Hong Kong Amoy Gardens resident who visited Taiwan and spread the disease [here]," Chen said.

Meanwhile, officials of the DOH's Bureau of Food Sanitation yesterday stressed the value of forcing employees of catering businesses to wear masks. Those found violating the directive are subject to fines of NT$30,000 to NT$150,000.

Health officials said the action was taken to minimize risk of SARS spread, even though epidemiological research on the move was lacking.

World Health Organization research suggests there is no link between SARS infection and coming into contact with articles, products and animals from SARS-affected areas, bureau director-general Chen Lu-hung (陳陸宏) said.

Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉), an Academia Sinica researcher, stressed the importance of proper food sanitation.

"Choosing hot and well-cooked food has a lower risk because the SARS virus can hardly survive at high temperatures," Ho said.

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