Fight Against SARS: Government to Seek Exit Checks

The Public Health Ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are scheduled to meet in Malaysia to discuss specific proposals for regional cooperation to combat further spread of SARS. Thailand’s proposals include the screening of all departing passengers, the establishment of a regional website to share SARS related information, and the exchange of medical professionals between ASEAN countries. These regional-level proposals are in addition to national measures implemented by countries. Although China is not an ASEAN member, it is an important player in proposals for regional cooperation. This is primarily because more than half of the currently diagnosed SARS cases are from China. In addition to these regional measures, the private sector in ASEAN countries like Singapore is also implementing measures to combat the spread of SARS. – YaleGlobal

Fight Against SARS: Government to Seek Exit Checks

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Thailand will propose screening departing passengers to strengthen regional cooperation in combating the Sars outbreak when Asean public health ministers meet in Malaysia, the public health minister said yesterday.

Sudarat Keyuraphan said the proposal is aimed at containing the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and building confidence in countries where travellers arrive, Sudarat said.

"I will propose this when I meet my [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] colleagues in an urgent meeting in Malaysia from tomorrow to Saturday. If they all agree to the proposal, Asean will have effective regional standard practices to deal with Sars," she said.

"Uniform screening of departing passengers is expected to boost effectiveness in containing the disease as well as facilitating travel in the region," she said.

Asean countries have agreed to special ministerial and summit meetings to seek more cooperation to combat Sars.

The virus has claimed the lives of more than 200 people worldwide and thousands of others are under quarantine. Two Asean countries - Singapore and Vietnam - as well as China have been hit hard by the virus.

The proposal would add to existing measures implemented by each country to screen arriving foreign visitors, particularly those from Sars-hit countries.

Sudarat said that Thailand's other two proposals are to set up a region-wide website to exchange Sars-related information, and the exchange of medical professionals among Asean countries.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had confirmed that he would attend the special Asean summit on Sars in Bangkok next Tuesday.

The one-day meeting seeking measures to fight the virus would be separated into two sessions: a meeting of Asean leaders and a gathering of Asean leaders with China.

China, which is the epicentre of the deadly virus outbreak, would play a crucial role in mapping out action plans with Asean against the outbreak, he said.

"If China and Asean could manage to control the Sars epidemic, we will be able to restore confidence for tourists travelling in the region," Surakiart told reporters at the Foreign Ministry.

China has about half of the world's known 4,300 Sars cases. But the tourism industry might not be damaged if travellers knew that many areas are free from the disease, Surakiart said.

The ravaged tourism sector would be a topic of discussion. The Chinese premier, travelling to Bangkok on his first foreign trip since taking power in March, will also hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Meanwhile, Singapore's biggest supermarket chain is rationing the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables in a bid to maintain supply after the city-state's main wholesale market was shut down over a Sars scare.

NTUC FairPrice said in a statement that it would allow each shopper to purchase only up to 10 Singapore dollars (Bt240) worth of fruit and vegetables until April 29.

FairPrice said that despite moves to increase delivery trips to its 70 stores across the island, stocks were running low as people were buying more than they needed. Traders were also sourcing their supplies from its stores, it said.

"In view of the current situation, we have decided to implement controls on purchases ... We hope to withdraw these restrictions as soon as possible when the situation eases," it said.

A spokesperson for Singapore's other main supermarket operator, the Dairy Farm Group, said there was some evidence of panic buying by customers anxious to stock up on fruit and vegetables, which are touted as one of the main defences against Sars.

He also said the stores would stop people making "excessive" purchases by traders to maintain supply to ordinary customers.

Singapore's main fresh fruit and vegetable distribution market, the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, was shut down by the government at the weekend after a worker there was diagnosed with Sars.

More than 2,400 workers at the market, which supplies at least 70 per cent of Singapore's vegetable and fruits, were also quarantined.

Asean comprises Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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