PM Lee: Singapore has strengthened defences against outbreaks since Sars

Singapore has strengthened its defences against infectious diseases since the lethal outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) a decade ago, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

For instance, public health capabilities are being enhanced, with a new 300-bed National Centre for Infectious Disease to be built at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 2018, replacing the Communicable Disease Centre, said Mr Lee. "We owe it to every Singaporean to do our best to protect ourselves from any future outbreak."

Mr Lee was speaking at a Sars memorial event at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Centre, 10 years to the day the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Singapore free of the disease which infected 238 people and claimed 33 lives here.

While science and medicine have made tremendous progress since the global Sars pandemic in 2003, Mr Lee said the world is much more connected today and a new contagious disease will spread even more swiftly and widely. "No country can expect to be spared in a pandemic," he said, noting the emergence of new viruses like the H7N9 in China and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the Arabian peninsula.

However, Mr Lee said the most important defence is to be psychologically prepared - to stay calm, be socially responsible and overcome any outbreaks together. In the 2003 outbreak, fear had been "as great a threat to us as the disease itself", said Mr Lee. But Singaporeans, from ministers to engineers, teachers and taxi drivers, rallied together to help one another.

Above all, "none were stronger or braver than our healthcare workers", said Mr Lee as he paid tribute to the five healthcare workers who died while caring for Sars patients. "We remember and honour them always," he said.

Guests at the memorial event also observed a minute of silence for those who lost their lives to Sars.

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