Tue, 06 May 2003

MM Focus: SARS Alert: ‘Small chance
of getting it’

“YOU are more likely to get involved in a road accident than to get SARS,” says Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng, allaying fears among the Chinese community as three new suspected cases, including a Singaporean, were reported.
At a four-hour briefing with representatives from about 5,000 Chinese guilds yesterday, he assured them that the disease was contained.
Urging them to carry on with normal life, Chua said: “It is safe because we have taken all the precautionary measures. There are no local transmissions in the country. Go back to your normal life.
“You are more likely to be involved in a road accident than to get SARS.”
Chua later told reporters there has been widespread “feelings of uncertainty and fear, sometimes verging on panic” among the Chinese, who make up 26 per cent of Malaysia’s 23 million.
Chinese are the “most afraid” of SARS because of frequent travel for business or education purposes to affected countries like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
“Many Chinese are affected by rumours and distorted reporting. Many are worried and some are on the verge of panic. Today’s briefing has calmed them,” Chua told reporters.
Last Saturday, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also quashed rumours that Chinese were the only race affected by SARS. He had provided a racial breakdown of SARS patients in Singapore to prove his point.
“There are 10 per cent probable SARS cases or about 20 patients so far, of which 65 per cent are Chinese, Malays (13 per cent) and 12 per cent from other races. So, no racial group is immune,” he said.
Seven Chinese associations, in a joint statement, called for a SARS relief fund to help affected patients, medical workers and those under quarantine.
Led by the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, they also urged the Government to help minimise the impact on affected businesses and appealed to the community to remain calm.
Chua said the Government was considering giving allowances to low-wage earners under quarantine, as well as to medical workers as a show of appreciation.
He also warned travellers with SARS symptoms – who failed to declare this in their health forms when entering the country – that they could be jailed for two years for the offence.
Meanwhile, the seven Chinese organisations and guilds expressed hope that all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion and political leanings, would unite to eliminate the SARS threat.
Six of the seven, besides the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Malaysia, are Malaysian Federation of Chinese Associations, The Liaison Committee of Seven Federations of Chinese Associations of Malaysia, the Federation of Malaysian Chinese School Board of Governors Associations, the Confederation of Malaysian Chinese Teachers Associations, the Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Headmasters Malaysia.