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Virus travel scanner to cover all

New Delhi, April 6: With suspected cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) now being reported from the US and the UK, the Centre has ordered all passengers landing in India to fill in the special health forms earlier restricted to travellers from East Asia.

Even Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong — both of whom will land in the country tomorrow for state visits — will have to fill the forms.

“Ours is a graded response. Earlier, we felt it was enough to take precautions about flights coming in from Hong Kong, Singapore and other East Asian countries. But with today’s news, we have stepped up our checks and made it compulsory for everyone coming from abroad,” health minister Sushma Swaraj said.

The Centre has ordered immigration officials at airports to wear masks and gloves as protection against the infection. Earlier, the health ministry had disallowed face-masks for fear it would spark unnecessary panic.

As the mystery infection spreads across continents, Swaraj sent out a message of reassurance to the people: “Don’t panic. No case of SARS has so far been reported here.”

“The suspected case from Bhopal,” she said, “was examined by experts from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the National Institute of Virology, and both sets of tests proved that the victim died of pneumonia.”

Though India has so far escaped the virus, the Centre has not been sitting idle. “We have taken all precautions and are also geared up to tackle the disease if it spreads to India,” Swaraj said.

The minister explained the measures taken by the Centre so far, which on paper appeared foolproof. Swaraj urged doctors to contact the Centre on coming across any suspected SARS case so that an immediate and thorough investigation could be carried out.

“There is no need to spread panic by going to the press. We request all doctors to inform us so that those who have the expertise and the necessary equipment can make a correct assessment,” she said.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the National Institute of Virology in Pune were equipped to make a correct assessment, Swaraj said. The Centre has also imported primers — part of the diagnostic kit — from Germany for quicker and more effective tests.

“If a case is detected, we will immediately make it public as there is nothing to hide,” she said.

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