Press Release

Statement from Department of Health and Children in relation to the SARS Expert Group Recommendation

There has been considerable media and public comment since the announcement of the recommendation from the SARS Expert Group regarding delegations travelling from affected areas to attend the Special Olympics next month. Clarification is required on a number of points:

  • Contrary to some reports, the reasons for the Expert Group´s recommendation were given at a press conference last Thursday (May 15). A copy of the statement outlining those reasons given by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jim Kiely, who chaired the Expert Group, is available on the Department’s website
  • The nature of the event, involving large numbers of people, some of whom are more prone to respiratory illness, makes it unique. The event requires special attention, special treatment. The situation is not the same as individuals arriving from affected areas who are already covered by other World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The CMO’s statement covers this issue.
  • The Minister has stated that he would facilitate the National Organising Committee and Special Olympics International to give their views and perspectives on the recommendation to the Expert Group.
  • Following the Expert Group´s recommendation on Wednesday 14 May, the WHO issued a statement regarding mass gatherings on 15 May. The WHO has since issued a further clarifying statement (May 16) which says that any decisions about such gatherings are left to the authority of individual countries “based on their own assessment of the nature of the event”
  • The WHO have also stated publicly that they are “happy with the rationale” used for the recommendation. The Chief Medical Officer has issued a short statement (May 17) about this matter
  • The Department has consistently said that the decision will only apply to those countries who are on the WHO´s list of affected areas in the days prior to the normal arrival of those countries before the Games start on 21 June. The WHO list may change between now and that time. A copy of the Minister´s statement of May 15which makes that position clear is also available on the Department’s website.
  • The Expert Group is made up independent professionals drawn from the wider healthcare system in the fields of microbiology, infectious diseases, primary care, infection control nursing, and others.
  • The Expert Group also includes Department of Health officials, three of whom are drawn from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. The Office provides independent medical and public health advice to the Minister and the political system based on the highest of professional public health standards. The officers within the Chief Medical Officer’s office operate within the same professional and ethical framework as all other public health practitioners. The ability of the Office and its officers to provide independent high quality public health advice is what underpins their value to the entire health system.