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Sars case suspected in Singapore after initial tests

Singapore health officials yesterday reported a possible return of the deadly Sars virus, just hours after a warning from the World Health Organisation that the pneumonia-like illness could re-emerge.

The Ministry of Health said the possible case was discovered during routine screening of an ethnic Chinese man at Singapore General Hospital, and officials said initial tests appeared to show the man had tested positive for the virus in what it believed was an isolated case. Further tests were being carried out last night. If confirmed it would be the first Sars case in five months.

The man has been isolated at the city state's Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which treated only Sars patients in the last outbreak earlier this year that spread to 30 and infected almost 8,500 people globally, causing more than 800 deaths including 33 in Singapore.

The head of the World Health Organisation yesterday warned health specialists at a meeting in the Phillipines capital of Manila of a possible resurgence of Sars and urged nations to boost surveillance.

"None of us can predict what will happen later this year," WHO's director-general, Lee Jong-wook, told a five-day meeting of a regional panel. "We have to prepare on the assumption that this will come back. Our challenge now is to enhance surveillance networks that will detect and deal with Sars if it does come back."

The WHO had declared the outbreak contained on 5 July and took Singapore off a list of Sars-affected regions on 31 May.