Singapore removed from WHO’s list of SARS-hit areas

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already removed Singapore from the list of areas with recent local transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and no longer recommends exit screening of international travellers departing from the country.
     WHO announced the good news a day ahead of the effective date May 31, which is 20 days after the last locally acquired case was placed in isolation. This demonstrated the WHO’s confidence that Singapore has contained SARS.
     The 20-day period represents twice the maximum incubation period – a reliable indication, following established epidemiological principles, that a chain of transmission has been broken.
     “From the start, Singapore’s handling of its SARS outbreak has been exemplary,” said Dr. David Heymann, Executive Director for Communicable Diseases at WHO.
     “This is an inspiring victory that should make all of us optimistic that SARS can be contained everywhere.”
     The absence of local transmission for twice the incubation period means that neither residents nor travellers are at risk of acquiring SARS in Singapore.
     Singapore no longer needed to screen outgoing international travellers but may wish to continue doing so to ensure that the spread of SARS was contained worldwide, Dr. Heymann said, adding that the country may at the same time wish to increase its activities to detect and respond to any imported cases, should there be any.
     “It is a recognition of the comprehensive and rigorous measures that have been put in place in Singapore,” the Health Ministry stated with pride in response to WHO’s action.
     The cautious official position was reiterated in the ministry’s statement, reminding Singaporeans to continue to maintain the highest level of vigilance.
     “The possibility of a future imported case sparking off clusters of SARS cases in Singapore cannot be discounted,” the ministry said in a clear reference to Toronto in Canada which went back on the Sars list two weeks after it was removed.
     “So long as there are SARS-affected areas in the region and the world, we cannot afford to let our guard down,” it added, echoing the familiar caution of incoming Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
     Since the first cases were reported in Singapore on March 9, SARS has infected 206 people in the country and 31 died. Nine people are still in hospital, four of them critically ill.

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