The Hon. HENRY TSANG [3.26 p.m.]: The severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] problem facing our region could not have escaped anyone’s attention. The New South Wales Government’s response was announced last week with the scheduling of SARS as a category 4 medical condition under the Public Health Act. The potential crisis facing our health system is a serious one, but it is important for the public not to overreact to the dangers of SARS. The category 4 listing under the Act allows for a person who is suspected of suffering from the condition to be compelled to be tested and treated accordingly. Obviously, such measures exist for the safety of the community at large, not as a draconian measure.
The Government has made approximately 900 beds available to deal with any outbreak. Even though no confirmed cases of SARS have been reported in Australia, its very potential has already impacted on the lives of many in the community. Self-restriction by community members of their movements has adversely affected many businesses, not just in Asia but also in Sydney. Yesterday when I was at Sydney Airport, I noticed that there were far fewer travellers to Australia than has been the case to date. On the weekend I was entertaining at Darling Harbour and I noticed that very few tourists were at the popular tourist site. The impact of SARS has also adversely affected hotel businesses and this State’s tourism industry. I am pleased to note that as recently as yesterday the Premier assured several members of the diplomatic corps from Asia that the Government is putting the threat of an outbreak in its proper context—that is, although the potential crisis facing our health system is serious, it is important for the public not to overreact to the danger of SARS. The Premier emphasised that regional co-operation with countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which have applied strict testing and quarantining, has safeguarded the people of New South Wales from an outbreak.
The community also deserves credit for helping to achieve that end. People have been careful in their travels and have restricted any visits to urgent cases. A friend of mine imposed self-exclusion upon his return from Qingdao, China, recently, and effectively quarantined himself from his family until the incubation period of the disease was over. He was, of course, tested prior to self-exclusion. It is such examples that have helped to quarantine us from SARS. The community is to be commended for its efforts. The way to move forward is to not panic and to be cautious in conducting our normal business.
I read in today’s Australian Financial Review that Geoff Dixon, the chief executive officer of Qantas, was travelling to Singapore to meet with the Singaporean Transport Minister to reassure the Government of Singapore of Qantas’ commitment to the region. Tourism NSW has built a great image of the region as an open, welcoming and safe destination. The New South Wales Government has worked hard in creating good business relationships with Asia. We need to reassure the region and get on with the job of retaining our good image. Measures such as self-testing and limiting travel are available to make sure that SARS will not spread. Also a new test is available that more quickly determines whether a person has been affected with SARS. I urge NSW Health to promote, and the community to engage in, self-screening. I urge the community to travel only when there is an urgent need to do so. Such measures will ensure confidence that business is being conducted as usual, but with added care.