Strict measures to combat spread of SARS announced

DUBAI - The UAE Ministry of Health has announced several strict measures aimed at preventing and comabting the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) disease.

By Hani M. Bathish

Published: Thu 24 Apr 2003, 12:18 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Apr 2015, 10:00 PM

The measures were decided at an emergency meeting held in Dubai yesterday under the chairmanship of Minister of Health Hamad Abdel Rahman Al Midfa. Representatives of civil aviation departments of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, the General Secretariat of UAE Municipalities, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior, Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms), the General Health Services Department of Abu Dhabi and assistant under-secretaries of the Ministry of Health attended the meeting.

The participants were told that travellers arriving at airports in the UAE from four major SARS-affected regions and countries of South-East Asia - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and China - were being strictly monitored. Any suspected case is immediately isolated and referred to hospital for a 10-day observation period.

Separate arrival gates and transit lounges at UAE airports have been assigned for passengers arriving from the SARS-hit regions, while short-term transit passengers were not being permitted to disembark from their aircraft and mingle with others in the duty-free shopping area and airport building.

Airport cleaners on duty in special transit lounges all wear masks and protective gear.

Hospitals and healthcare centres in the country are instructed to inform the ministry about any SARS case they detect.

They are also required to have special arrangements for isolating suspected SARS cases and to take necessary precautions in order to prevent the spread of the disease to healthcare personnel.

Dr Mahmoud Fikri, Assistant Under-Secretary of the ministry for preventive medicine, explained to newsmen yesterday the precautionary measures in the country to prevent the spread of SARS. He said that no country in the world was 100 per cent sterile when it came to infectious diseases, but the UAE was taking all precautions recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Fikri said that thermoscan devices and infrared ear thermometers had been provided to airport staff in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to check passengers entering the country for high fever. SARS patients usually have fever of over 38 degrees Celsius, in addition to dry cough, shortness of breath, headache and muscle pain.

Crew of all airlines have been instructed to inform health authorities in the UAE of any suspected cases on their aircraft and to keep two to three unoccupied seats on all flights which can be used to isolate any suspected SARS case discovered onboard. Any passenger suspected of having SARS should have a separate toilet facility on the aircraft. Air crew are also supplied with masks.

"We still discourage travel to those countries where SARS cases are endemic, but to those who insist on travelling to these countries we will distribute a health alert leaflet which informs them what symptoms to watch out for. Should they develop these symptoms within 10 days from arriving back in the UAE, they should contact the nearest health-care centre," Dr Fikri said.

The Preventive Medicine Department of the ministry will follow up people who have come in contact with reported SARS cases and coordinate with local departments concerned, in particular civil aviation departments in the UAE.

The department also aims to spread awareness of SARS to all health workers and members of the general public, especially those most prone to be exposed to it, through cooperation with various media organisations.

Special forms have been distributed to all healthcare centres and hospitals to be filled out in the event of detection of a SARS case.

The forms are to be faxed to the Preventive Medicine Department in Abu Dhabi.

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