April 7, 2003

Malaysia pledges no SARS cover-up
and appeals for public calm

KUALALUMPUR (dpa/AFP) - Malaysia's acting prime minister has assured his country that the government will not cover up cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a deadly pneumonia-like illness which has begun to spread around the world from its believed origins in southern China's Guangdong province and Hong Kong, news reports said Sunday.
A car passes by a house in Jerantut, Malaysia, where five relatives of a 64-year-old man who was diagnosed with SARS have been quarantined since March 30 when he died at a Kuala Lumpur hospital. AP
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the acting prime minister, made his comments in response to public concern that Malaysian officials might try to play down the situation to prevent a plunge in tourism, which is a pillar of the country's economy. "This is not something that has to be covered up," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the Sunday Star newspaper.
"The people's fears must be taken seriously (and) we must be transparent in informing the people what they need to do."
Meanwhile, Abdullah urged Malaysians on Sunday not to panic over the country's first probable death from SARS.
On Saturday, Health Director-General Mohamad Taha Arif confirmed that a 64-year-old man who died March 30 was Malaysia's first case of a SARS-related death.
Mohamad Taha said post-mortem results of the victim, who last month travelled to China and Singapore, showed that he died following evidence of SARS symptoms.
Earlier, the Malaysian government had insisted the man had died of heart failure.
Abdullah said the government had set up a special ministerial committee which had implemented various measures to curb the spread of the mysterious disease.
"There's no need to panic, why should we panic?" he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
"We have stopped the entry of (certain) tourists and monitored the issuance of visas... through these measures the disease will be contained in this country."