HL Deb 25 June 2003 vol 650 cc20-1WA
Lord Kilclooney

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In which nations from which there will be athletes for the Special Olympics based in Northern Ireland, there have been cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome; and what precautions are being taken to stop an outbreak of SARS in Northern Ireland. [HL3171]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Cases of SARS have been reported in four of the countries from which there will be athletes for the Special Olympics based in Northern Ireland,viz the United States, Sweden, Spain and Australia. None of these countries is listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a SARS-affected country requiring restrictions on international travel.

SARS is a serious public health issue and the approach of the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) Northern Ireland has been to act quickly to strengthen its public health surveillance systems and make sure that the health service is prepared should a case occur in Northern Ireland. The department is represented on the national SARS taskforce, which itself works closely with the WHO. The taskforce agrees all relevant control measures and these are then implemented locally. As early as 14 March the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, contacted all relevant healthcare professionals with detailed information on the symptoms of SARS, and what to do if they encountered a case. Updated guidance based on advice from WHO has been issued at regular intervals since, both to professionals and to people travelling abroad. The department has established a SARS section on its website which is regularly updated. It has also provided and made arrangements for posters to be displayed at appropriate points in airports and seaports. There have been no SARS cases so far in Northern Ireland.

In conjunction with the Centre for Communicable Disease Control (CDSC) (NI), the department is urgently developing a contingency plan for SARS or other emerging infection. A Northern Ireland taskforce is being established to monitor the situation and to implement the contingency plan.