- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

SINGAPORE, March 26 (UPI) — Singapore has suffered its first death from severe acute respiratory syndrome, which now has claimed 17 lives worldwide, officials reported Wednesday.

As a precautionary measure, the ministries of education and health have closed all primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges, effective immediately and until April 6.

"On purely medical grounds, there are currently no strong reasons for closing all schools. However, principals and general practitioners have reported that parents continue to be concerned about the risk to their children in schools," a joint communique said.

Health ministry officials also said the disease, now known as SARS, is not infectious until the person develops fever. Transmission of SARS is only through close contact with those already infected.

The most recent ministry bulletin showed 74 SARS local cases, including 10 in serious condition. Thirteen patients have been discharged, however.

On Tuesday, the government issued quarantine orders under the Infectious Diseases Act to 740 people, including school children, who might have come in contact with SARS cases, ordering them to stay at home in order to contain the spread of the virus. Hefty financial penalties will be imposed on those who break the quarantine.

The health ministry said the control measures already instituted are minimizing the risk of transmission of SARS within the community.

Home quarantine of contacts has allowed health officials to identify and isolate those who come down with SARS early and prevent spread to others. In the hospitals, no healthcare worker has been infected with SARS, from either known or suspected cases, since the implementation of the enhanced infection control precautions.

All of the SARS cases in Singapore so far can be traced back to three index cases. The control measures appear to be working, although it still is too early to be confident of this, the ministry said.

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