The rapid containment of the Singapore severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 involved the introduction of several stringent control measures. These measures had a profound impact on the healthcare system and community, and were associated with significant disruptions to normal life, business and social intercourse. An assessment of the relative effectiveness of the various control measures is critical in preparing for future outbreaks of a similar nature. The very “wide-net” surveillance, isolation and quarantine policy adopted was effective in ensuring progressively earlier isolation of probable SARS cases. However, it resulted in nearly 8000 contacts being put on home quarantine and 4300 on telephone surveillance, with 58 individuals eventually being diagnosed with probable SARS. A key challenge is to develop very rapid and highly sensitive tests for SARS infection, which would substantially reduce the numbers of individuals that need to be quarantined without decreasing the effectiveness of the measure. Daily temperature monitoring of all healthcare workers (HCWs) in hospitals was useful for early identification of HCWs with SARS. However, daily temperature screening of children in schools failed to pick up any SARS cases. Similarly, temperature screening at the airport and other points of entry did not yield any SARS cases. Nevertheless, the latter 2 measures probably helped to reassure the public that schools and the community were safe during the SARS outbreak. Strong political leadership and effective command, control and coordination of responses were critical factors for the containment of the outbreak.
The 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak represented the most severe communicable disease challenge to the public health system and the government and people of Singapore. The SARS outbreak in Singapore began on 1 March 2003 and the last case of the outbreak was isolated on 11 May 2003.
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