Thu, 10 Apr 2003

SARS causing paranoia among Jakartans

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A babysitter has just been temporarily laid off. Not because of incompetence, but because her boss has become overly cautious about the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"I've just dismissed my son's babysitter temporarily. My husband and I think it will be safer if we take care our son ourselves during the SARS alert," said Yuniarti Kho, 27, a mother of a 19-month baby.

Yuniarti was shopping at the Plaza Senayan, South Jakarta, on Wednesday with surgical mask covering her mouth. Several layers of tissue paper were evident from behind her mask, presumably for extra protection.

On Wednesday there were seven suspected SARS patients being treated at the Sulianti Saroso respiratory hospital in Sunter, North Jakarta. There is also one in Banyuwangi, East Java, and one in Surakarta, Central Java.

Director General for Communicable Disease Eradication and Environmental Health Dr. Umar Fahmi Achmadi told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that an empirical study has shown that a SARS-infected person could transmit the disease to an average of 46 other people in two weeks.

That is in comparison to tuberculosis patients who infect 15 other people a year on average.

The disease is thought to be transmitted primarily by a coughing SARS sufferer when people nearby breathe in the microscopic droplets. Some also believe that they can be infected by airborne transmission, but no doctors have proven that.

While some people here are totally unaware of the new ailment, others have taken precautions in their own way.

"I've reduced the number of times I go shopping in malls. And of course, I prefer to leave my baby at home," said Yuniarti, "Like today, I have to shop here because we are running out of meat. When I am done, I will go home directly."

She said that now she had her mother-in-law take care of her baby son at home while she was away.

"I also prefer not to touch anything carelessly. Now I cover my hand with a tissue first," said the young woman, who used a tissue before touching a door handle or an elevator button.

"I do not care if people think I am paranoid, but I believe it is better for me to take such precautions than feel regret later."

Angelina, an expatriate woman, also said that her husband now forbade her and their children from ice-skating at Taman Anggrek in West Jakarta.

"My husband said the number of SARS-infected people was increasing out there," she said.

She added that she doubted the government's statement that said there were no confirmed cases of SARS in the country.

Davina, a public relations associate, said now she washed her hands more often when visiting public places.

"Once, I had just washed my hands, but then I touched the toilet door handle. I instantly felt that my hands were dirty again, so I washed them again," she said, laughing. She said she then used a tissue to open the door.

Even though many people said that they preferred to avoid shopping malls and public places, the management of several public places denied any decrease in the number of visitors.

General Manager of Plaza Senayan, Budiyono, said that they had a constant number of visitors. "During weekends, we still have about 11,000 to 12,000 cars in the parking garage as usual."

He also said the management had not yet made their staff members wear protective masks.

Metty Sander, public relations officer from the Sea World Indonesia in Ancol, North Jakarta, also claimed that the SARS alert had not yet affected the number of visitors. "We still have about 1,500 visitors during weekdays and 4,000 to 6,000 on weekends," she said.