Fri, 28 March 2003

Chua: SARS Closely Monitored

KUALA LUMPUR (Thur): The Health Ministry is tracking down the 55 Malaysians staying at the Metropole Hotel in Mongkok, Hong Kong, said to be the origin of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) during the "extraordinary period" of the recent outbreak. The ministry also urged these Malaysians to report to the ministry for comprehensive examination.
The Health Ministry has also confirmed that it has obtained a list from the Malaysian Consulate in Hong Kong, and will track down these people with the help of local health authorities.
Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng told reporters at the Parliament lobby this morning that the latent period of these people has been over and no SARS cases have been reported during this period of time. However, he said the ministry would not give up tracking down any clue that might help prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
"We put SARS on top priority. The health director-general will be fully in charge of this matter, and he will brief the public every now and then on the latest developments, including the result of the tracking operation."
The so-called "extraordinary period" was from February 18 to March 3, when a Chinese professor, said to be the first SARS patient in Hong Kong, was a resident guest at the Metropole Hotel.
Chua also said SARS has not been detected in Malaysia as yet.
He pointed out that his ministry has set up a special task force to fully monitor the development of SARS, and to conduct immediate and emergency evaluation of any suspected case from hospital reports.
"It is sometimes very difficult to identify possible SARS cases, because any fever, cough and respiratory problems can be included in this matter, causing a lot of anxiety among the people."
When asked whether Malaysia would adopt the measure to control Singaporeans entering the country after the city-state had taken some drastic steps on the deadly disease, Chua said Malaysia would not do so for the time being.
He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not given any entry control advisories with regard to this matter. Moreover, it is difficult to identify a SARS carrier. Therefore, the measure to control Singaporeans entering Malaysia is inappropriate.
"Currently, Malaysians are only strongly advised not to visit major contagious areas such as Guangdong, Hong Kong and Vietnam."
On the research works to detect the SARS virus, Chua pointed out that his ministry would work closely with Singapore's health department.
Thanks to extensive media coverage arousing the public's awareness of the disease, as well as the ministry's experience in dealing with the Nipah virus crisis, Malaysia can now be spared from the deadly atypical pneumonia even after SARS cases have been detected in 15 countries worldwide, the health minister added.
He urged Malaysians to remain highly alert and seek medical assistance immediately if they present any likely signs and symptoms of SARS.
He also urged the Foreign Ministry to present the list of Malaysians residing overseas and suspected to have been infected with SARS, so that his ministry could better monitor the cases.

Sin Chew Daily