Fri, 27 Jun 2003

Indonesia and Singapore join forces against SARS

Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Batam, Riau

Indonesia and Singapore signed on Thursday a bilateral agreement to keep the two neighboring countries SARS free.

Indonesian health minister Achmad Sujudi said the agreement required the two governments to screen people crossing the borders of the two countries to detect possible cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"We will maintain the ASEAN agreement that requires arriving passengers to fill out health declaration cards and have their temperature checked at airports and seaports," Sujudi said after signing the joint statement at the Meeting on Border Issues and SARS at Hotel Novotel here.

Singapore was represented by health minister Lim Hgn Kiang.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. ASEAN health ministers met in Bangkok late in April, resulting in an agreement to heighten screening at international ports of departure.

Under the bilateral agreement signed on Thursday, all passengers with a fever of 38 degrees Celsius or above will be quarantined and receive immediate medical treatment at hospitals until recovery.

"But passengers heading for Singapore from Batam by ferry visa versa who have a high fever will be sent home for treatment at hospital," Sujudi said.

Batam is just 30 minutes from Singapore by ferry.

The agreement also covers training, exchange of data and assistance in the form of thermal scanners provided by Singapore.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on June 12 Indonesia and other ASEAN member countries free of SARS, which killed 32 people in Singapore.

Sujudi said the bilateral agreement would help the economies of the two countries to recover, particularly in the transportation and tourism sectors.

In his remarks, Lim said the agreement was needed to speed up the two countries' efforts to contain the disease.

Singapore donated two thermal scanners to the Indonesian government.

SARS has affected over 8,500 people around the world since April, 792 of them died. In most parts of the world, the outbreak has ceased.