SARS returns to Singapore?

It’s all the buzz at the moment, although the 27-year-old patient shows no signs of a chest infection. I hope we don’t see any more hysteria. SARS will probably be here for many years to come, if not forever, and we’re just going to have to live with it.

I’ll be making this a big part of my crisis communications talk next week — how SARS became such an out-of-control crisis.

A total of 916 people worldwide died of SARS. Every year, nearly half-a-million people die of influenza. Last spring, over a 3-month period 800 people died of flu in Madagascar, but you didn’t see the WHO putting up travel advisories telling people not to go to Madagascar. So why did SARS generate so much irrational fear?

I think it was all about the Unknown vs. the Known. SARS is mysterious and we still don’t know how it originated; there is no cure; it has an inordinately high death rate. Even more important, it was new, adding to its sense of mystery. When it comes to diseases that kill way, way more people, like e coli, salmonella, influenza, etc., we at least understand them and know what steps need to be taken. That’s not so when it comes to SARS and the ebola virus and mad cow disease, which is why they play so dramatically on the psyche and generate such anxiety.

Still, let’s hope everyone keeps this in perspective this time. The last thing Asia needs right now is yet another blow to its economy.

The Discussion: 4 Comments


September 9, 2003 @ 11:40 am | Comment

While I agree that when trying to put things in a rational perspective that the whole SARS thing seems a bit overblown, nonetheless this past April for me was such an emotional rollercoaster for me that the thought of SARS popping up again makes me very concerned (though we were all aware of this possibility back in April.)

Moreover, perhaps the correct line of logic isn’t “We shouldn’t have panicked because SARS didn’t kill that many people” but rather “SARS didn’t kill that many people because we panicked.” Who knows how many lives were saved by all of that quarantining?

September 9, 2003 @ 3:50 pm | Comment

The tough, sometimes draconian measures taken to prevent the spread of SARS probably helped to limit its physical spread. However, if SARS is something that will stay around for a while, those same measures are not viable in the long run. They were much too disruptive and haphazard (though understandable given the circumstances). Entire areas being quarantined, great stygmitization of ethnic groups on the world stage, people from certain areas in a local context, great economic loss, etc etc. If something positive can be made from this, at least the governments in question should be better prepared to deal with future outbreaks. Incidently, there was an article in the South China Morning Post in August stating that the Beijing government admitted that most likely, between half and a quarter of the number of deceased attributed to SARS actually died from the flu. This still has yet to been factored into the death toll.

September 9, 2003 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

I’m just saying we should keep it all in perspective. When I refer to panic, I am not referring to the screening and awareness campaign. I remember the insanity of people running out to buy vinegar and Detol and snake oil of all kinds, the wearing of face masks by bicycle riders and others in the outdoors, the irrational and totally useless reactions exhibited by so many and, to some extent, fueled by the media (especially in Taiwan). Vigilance, intelligence and caution are essential. Blind hysteria can only be a detriment. All in all, the WHO did an amazing job, though I wonder now, in retrospect, whether its advisory could have been softer. I can understand a strong advisory warning people of the risks and telling them what to do to avoid them. But the warning to avoid all travel here may have been extreme — but understandable in the wake of the all the unknowns about SARS.

September 10, 2003 @ 12:23 am | Comment

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