Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Singapore lifts SARS quarentines

FREE TO GO The 75 people who had come into contact with the Taiwanese scientist diagnosed with the disease were given the all clear and can now leave their homes


Singapore sounded the all clear after its latest SARS scare yesterday, lifting mandatory home quarantine orders on 75 people who came into contact with a visitor from Taiwan with the deadly flu-like virus.

The health ministry in the Southeast Asian city-state, the only other country to report a case since an outbreak that killed hundreds of people worldwide was pronounced over in July, said six people who fell ill did not have SARS.

In Taiwan, initial findings showed that the military scientist diagnosed with SARS was likely to have contracted the virus on Dec. 6, a day before he left for Singapore, as he tried to disinfect a trash bag in his lab.

Singapore's health ministry said 75 people who came into contact with the scientist during his four-day visit to the city-state had been released from 10-days home quarantine overnight.

"Everyone who was on home quarantine in line with the 10-day virus incubation period was released from quarantine at midnight and can go back to normal activities immediately," a spokeswoman said.

To date, no one has development a vaccine against severe acute respiratory syndrome, or a cure.

The Taiwan case is only the second since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared in July that the last outbreak of the disease was over -- and both have been traced to laboratories.

A 27-year-old Singaporean medical student who tested positive for the potentially lethal disease after a laboratory accident in September 9 has since recovered.

Singapore was the first city to begin mass quarantines in the last SARS outbreak, isolating 8,000 people, monitoring some with cameras, and threatening jail time and fines if they left home.

The 44-year-old Taiwanese scientist tested positive for SARS this week, fanning fears of a resurgence of the disease in Asia, which bore the brunt of a virulent outbreak of the virus earlier this year. The man is now in stable condition.

After emerging in southern China late last year, SARS infected 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries, killing about 800, mostly in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Canada. Many of Asia's economies were battered.

Of the 75 quarantined this time in Singapore, six had fallen ill and were admitted to the city state's Communicable Disease Centre, the ministry spokeswoman said.

"All the six have been diagnosed as non-SARS. They remain well but are being kept under observation," she added.

Although criticized by some as draconian, Singapore's measures to contain the spread of the virus earned the nation of 4 million won praise from the WHO for bringing the outbreak under control.

"In the latest outbreak what Singapore has done has WHO's full support and we congratulate them on the swift conclusion to this scare," Peter Cordingly, WHO spokesman, said in a telephone interview from Manila.

Since the first outbreak of SARS, when Asian countries exhibited varying degrees of efficiency in handling the crisis, the WHO has stepped up its long-standing encouragement of cooperation between laboratories working to create vaccines.

"We always said that if there were a new infectious disease, labs should work together. And they did work together," Cordingly said, adding that the labs' cooperation had slackened.

"Since the outbreak ended in July, an element of competition and commercial rivalry seems to have been introduced into the scenario," he added.

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