Manila, March 18, 2003 -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today allayed fears over the possible outbreak of the killer pneumonia, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, in the country, saying the Department of Health is on the alert and is taking all the necessary preventive measures.

In a radio interview this morning, the President said it is good to note that the situation in the Philippines is not as serious compared to other Southeast Asian countries.

"Ganun pa man ang Department of Health ay nakita n'yo alerto na para sa ano mang suspetyosong kaso and it will not relax its guard (The Department of Health, though, as you can see, is on the alert for any suspicious case and it will not relax its guard)," the President said.

The President stressed that action plans have been put into place, including an information campaign about the disease itself, particularly its symptoms, and precautionary measures against it.

"Ang publiko ay dapat hindi na mi-mislead o natatakot sa tsismis. Kaalaman ang ating pinakamabuting sandata (The public should not be misled by rumors. Information is our best weapon against it)," the President said.

Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit declared Monday that the only known Filipino contact is not a SARS case and was already discharged from hospital confinement.

Dayrit said the DOH had located last March 15 a contact of a known SARS case, a 43 year-old Filipino businessman who came home from Hanoi in March 11.

Up to the time he was discharged yesterday, the Filipino has not manifested any signs of SARS, such as fever of more than 38 degrees Celsius, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, according to Dayrit. He added that the incubation period is from 4-6 days.

Dayrit advised the public to remain calm in the face of the potential spread of the mysterious pneumonia-type disease. He said DOH is working closely with international agencies like the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control.

The DOH is also working with the country's labor attaches abroad to prevent the spread of the infection and to identify, isolate and treat possible cases, Dayrit said.

He said that persons who do not have a history of travel to China and Hong Kong in February and March or who were not exposed (meaning lived with, cared for, or worked closely with) to known SARS cases need not worry.

"If you had contact with a known case or visited hospitals in the above places but did not develop respiratory signs and symptoms like fever, body weakness, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath within two weeks, you do not have to worry," Dayrit said. 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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