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2003: Sars spreads fear around world

Coalition forces invade Iraq; Asean agrees on economic integration.


IN March 1, 2003, a woman was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore with pneumonia-like symptoms following a visit to Hong Kong.

She would turn out to be Singapore's first patient diagnosed with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), a term not coined until two weeks after Patient No. 1's admittance. Singapore would not be Sars free until May 30.

The Sars outbreak swept across Asia and leaked out into other parts of the world, triggering widespread alarm and unprecedented efforts to contain the deadly disease. More than 770 people around the world would eventually lose their lives due to Sars.

The epidemic hit the regional economy hard, especially in crowdreliant sectors such as tourism and retail. Visitor arrivals in Singapore plunged, Singapore Airlines reported its first ever loss, and hotels struggled with empty rooms.

The episode also brought out the best and worst of society. Stories of heroic healthcare workers were juxtaposed against scenes of train passengers shunning nurses.

March was also a time of turmoil on the political front. On March 20, a US-led coalition launched a "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq on the premise that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

The invasion itself was swift, and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime within weeks, but it would eventually emerge that claims of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction were false. The invasion unleashed years of violence in the region, and has even been credited for fuelling the growth of the Islamic State.

Not all was doom and gloom. In South-east Asia, member nations embarked on a new era of economic integration as leaders unanimously agreed to create an Asean Community by 2020. The hope was to establish a single market and production base in the region.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at