SARS, the lonely disease
From Andrew Brown
SINGAPORE (CNN) -- SARS patients in Singapore who have been sent to an intensive care ward are not just sick -- they are also very lonely.
Due to the highly infectious nature of the illness, they are allowed visits from only one relative and separated from their loved one by a protective glass panel. There are no exceptions to that rule.
Singapore doctor, Lawrence Lee, is working closely with patients of the virus that has struck down more than 170 Singaporeans and killed 16.
"We've had a few patients who are dying in the ICU (intensive care unit). In that case, we let them look through glass, and even then there was no contact at all," he says.
That may sound harsh, but officials in Singapore say their policy of isolating SARS sufferers stops the disease spreading around the community.
Out on the street the policy seems to be working, where only a few are wearing facemasks. Many people say they feel safe and are getting on with their lives as normal.
The Singapore government began isolating patients early, and on March 24 friends and relatives of infected people were also ordered to remain in their homes or face prosecution.
The Hong Kong government waited until April 10 to introduce similar measures and by that time the disease had swept through many residential areas.
In contrast, Singapore officials say, they have contained SARS mainly within the hospital system.
Singapore Minister of State for Health, Balaji Sadasivan explains the numbers.
"In fact," he says, "more than 85 per cent caught their infection in the hospital and the remaining 15 per cent caught it at home from the relatives when they had fallen ill."
People at risk from the disease in their own homes are under surveillance. Cameras have been set up in their apartments so officials can make sure they don't violate their quarantine.
"We have not received any resistance," says Alvin Seng, a protection and enforcement official.
Some doctors say SARS can be controlled more easily in a society like Singapore where ordinary people trust their leaders to make the right choices.
"I think in Singapore people are more adaptable to quick rules and regulations," says Singapore doctor, Wei Siang Yu.
With the epidemic continuing though it may take more than effective government to defeat this disease.