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Commission calls for common sense around SARS

Human Rights Commission supports call for common sense around SARS

The Human Rights Commission is supporting calls from the Ministry of Health to use common sense when considering the risk of contracting Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS.

The message follows a ban against 43 delegates from China on attending a recent conference in Masterton on the grounds of a perceived risk of infection. On hearing of the ban the Commission contacted event organisers to provide advice on possible human rights issues relating to the ban.

Human Rights Chief Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said that although it may have been unintended, it is likely the ban was discriminatory and illustrated the need for people to use common sense when considering the risk of contracting SARS.

Also of concern were reports that some schools were considering asking students arriving from countries affected by SARS to stay home for a period of time before joining classes.

The Ministry of Health said information on the illness suggests that people were not likely to get SARS from someone who does not have any obvious symptoms such as a cough and fever and that the vast majority of infections to date were recorded in health professionals or family members in close contact with someone with SARS.

The Ministry of Health also released the following information for educational organisations: "There are no reasons to isolate or require any person returning to New Zealand from an infected area to take precautions if that person is feeling well and does not have any signs or symptoms of infection."

"The issue of discrimination to one side, this information suggests that any arbitrary actions against people on the grounds of national origin would be ineffectual," Ms Noonan said.

The Commission encourages people who are concerned about SARS to increase their understanding of the illness. The Ministry of Health is operating a 24-hour SARS information line - 0800 080 080. Information on SARS which is updated regularly is also available on the Ministry's SARS info page: http://www.moh.govt.nz/sars

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