Singapore Shuts Schools,
Expands Quarantines Over SARS


(AFP) -- Singapore suspended all classes up to the pre-university level and placed more people under home quarantine after suffering its first death from a mysterious respiratory disease.
Some 600,000 students are affected by the school closures from Thursday to April 6 and 861 people in the city-state are now under orders to stay home in a bid to contain the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Concern was rising among parents, and rumors that the disease was spreading beyond control gripped the densely-populated island, where the number of SARS cases rose to 74, with 10 patients in serious condition.
"As an additional precautionary measure in response to concerns expressed by parents on the recent SARS cases, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Health (MOH) have decided to close all primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutes from Thursday 27 March to Sunday 6 April," a government statement said.
"On purely medical grounds, there are currently no strong reasons for closing all schools. However, principals and general practitioners (doctors) have reported that parents continue to be concerned about the risk to their children in schools," it said.
The ministries hoped that the additional precautionary step to close schools "will address parents' concern and further reassure them."
They said that "further transmission of the infection appears to be stabilising" and the control measures "appear to be working, although it is still too early to be confident of this."
Earlier Wednesday, Singapore reported its first death from SARS, already blamed for 10 deaths in Hong Kong, four in Vietnam and three in Canada.
The disease was brought to Singapore by three local travellers who had visited Hong Kong, where they were believed infected by a mainland Chinese doctor who eventually died.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) head office in Geneva listed 487 SARS cases worldwide in its most recent bulletin.
At least 31 deaths from an earlier outbreak of atypical pneumonia in China could be SARS-linked, but experts have yet to establish a direct connection. Health authorities in Beijing meanwhile said Tuesday three people had died from atypical pneumonia since the beginning of March.
Singapore Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang said that the strategy remains isolation of victims and suspected cases through quarantines and restrictions on visits to hospitalised victims.
Hefty fines will be imposed on those who break the 10-day quarantine, which was imposed under the rarely invoked Infectious Diseases Act.
On Wednesday, health officers made the rounds of schools and child care centres to alert teachers on how to detect potential cases.
The owner of a child care centre with 38 children enrolled said two health officers went to her school with the latest instructions.
"If a child has a fever above 38 degrees, we have to inform the parents to come and take away the child," she told AFP.
In case the parents are not free or held up at work, an emergency telephone number at the ministry of health can be called so that a team can come down and take the child away for inspection, she said.
"At the moment, there's no panic. On my side, I'm more alerted," she said, adding she has a thermometer ready to check the temperature of children showing signs of fatigue or slight fever.
Despite the scare in Hong Kong, the Singapore rugby team Wednesday left for the Sevens tournament which will start Friday in the Chinese Special Administrative Region.
Fears of contracting the disease made teams from Argentina, France and Italy pull out of the event.
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