This time it is different – Covid-19 vs SARS

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) started in Guangdong province, China with first case reported on 16 November 2002. It affected mainly the Asian region and Canada. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared SARS was ended on 5 July 2003 some seven months later.

Seventeen years later on 31 December 2019, China alerted WHO on the onset of Covid-19. In the span of two-and-half months, the world saw 415,146 confirmed cases with 18,589 deaths as at 25 March 2020, 3.09 pm. Covid-19 affected 194 countries and territories around the world.

SARS was dwarfed by Covid-19 in scale, infection rates and death rates. It was classified as an epidemic that affected 26 countries and resulted in more than 8,000 cases in 2003. Covid-19 is a pandemic that affects practically the whole world.

In Singapore, there were 238 SARS cases, 33 of whom died by the time the infection was brought under control in May 2003. As for Covid-19, it is still spreading in Singapore with 558 confirmed cases and 2 deaths (as at 25 March 2020, 3.46 pm).

Covid-19 is frightening when compared with SARS. A person who is asymptomatic and not having a fever could be already infected and as a result could be passing on the coronavirus to another person(s) without any knowledge of doing so.

In 2003 SARS, temperature check on individuals was an effective method to identify SARS-infected person. With Covid-19, it is not 100 percent foolproof that a person is not infected. Only through a lab-test, a person can be cleared of carrying the coronavirus. Because of this and to break the transmission from one individual to another, isolation and quarantine is the only sure way. That is why many countries are adopting border control and lockdown of countries, cities and provinces to contain the spread of Covid-19.

In SARS, lockdowns of cities or countries were not happening. With Covid-19, air travels, land and sea crossings across borders are curtailed. This has a huge impact on tourism. Singapore and other countries are losing tourism receipts. SIA has to ground 96% of flights for April. Malaysia closed the border crossing with Singapore. For the first time, the causeway and Tuas crossings went quiet except for few vehicles and goods vehicles allowed to move across the border.

To fight this coronavirus, social distancing and stay-at-home are the new norms. Social gatherings of more than 10 people at a time are discouraged in Singapore. Religious services and congregations will be suspended. Bars and entertainment venues will be closed until April 30. In short, residents are to stay at homes as much as they can.

Covid-19 pandemic is going to have a huge impact on the global economies. IMF has predicted a global downturn for this year as bad as the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The global stock markets have already factored this possibility in their stock prices. They have lost about 30% this year for some major stock markets, like the US. Singapore is not spared.

When will the Covid-19 pandemic end or will it? I am still hoping that it will end by summer and lives can then return to normalcy with the many lockdowns lifted.

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