Singapore Takes Harsh Measures Against SARS

People believed exposed to SARS in Singapore are ordered to stay home, watched by a camera, sometimes tagged with an electronic wrist band -- and can be imprisoned if they go out.

Among nations hard hit by acute respiratory syndrome, this city state has some of the harshest measures to stop the spread of the illness. And most people here say they feel safer.

Stina Hotine, a Swedish expatriate on maternity leave with her 5-month-old son, say she stayed away from crowded places when the SARS outbreak began. She even put off a hospital visit for a scheduled polio vaccine for her son but now she is "out and about again."

"Singapore is quite harsh" in its remedies, said Hotine. "But I am happy we are in Singapore and not in Hong Kong or China."

Hong Kong and China have been hardest hit by SARS, with 94 and 92 dead respectively. China has been criticized for covering up the extent of its SARS outbreak and not acting quickly enough to contain it.

By contrast, Singapore's Ministry of Health has been open about the SARS problem and has published daily updates on the growing number of SARS patients on its Web site.

"I think the very open and transparent approach this government has taken, that's the approach to take, if you want to make sure people don't get panicky, you overwhelm them with information," Andresen said.

Singapore's first SARS patient was admitted to hospital a little over six weeks ago. Since then 184 people have come down with the illness and 16 of those have died.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned that the biggest crisis was fear and pledged tough measures while asking for understanding from the population.

"Some (measures) will be painful, some will be very inconvenient, some could lead to financial losses but please understand we have to contain this problem," Goh said Saturday.

"This crisis is not just a crisis of SARS, it is also a crisis of fear," Goh said. "We have got to first and foremost show that we can contain SARS."

The outbreak of SARS could be "the worst crisis our country has faced," he said, estimating it will cost the city-state $847 million this year.

The majority of the infections have been contracted within the city-state's hospitals, although a recent outbreak at a wholesale vegetable market has raised fears that it could spread through the community.

To keep the outbreak in check, the government will quarantine all 2,400 vegetable sellers and market workers from the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center -- Singapore's largest distribution center for fruits and vegetables.

The city-state is also screening all arrivals from SARS-stricken areas at the airport with fever-detecting infrared cameras.

Cameras are monitoring homes under quarantine, and people who have disobeyed the stay-at-home orders must wear electronic bracelets that send an alert if they go out.

Visitors to parliament must sign a health declaration and wear a sticker confirming they have been screened before entering.

The city-state has also begun turning away delivery trucks filled with fruit and vegetables at its border with Malaysia out of fear their delivery men may have been exposed to SARS.

"I can't say if it's an overreaction," said Westmoreland Palon, a spokesman for Malaysia in Singapore. "So far this SARS thing has taken quite a toll."