Lest We Forget…Lessons From SARS.

by Patrick Liew on March 25, 2013

It was one crisis that nobody could have imagined and was prepared for.

On 12 March 2003, I remember the World Health Organisation made a public announcement about a severe form of pneumonia.

Three days laters, it was termed as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a deadly disease that was caused by SARS corona virus. It was an outbreak that we knew little about and it was infecting 283 people in total.

Sadly, we eventually lost a total of 774 innocent lives, including 33 people in our country.

In the weeks following the announcement, many people stayed behind closed doors, far from crowds and potentially crowded places. They carried with them an air of fear – that any one of them could be the next victim.

The streets were never as quiet. Retail and other food and beverage outlets struggled to bring in customers. Meetings and all kinds of gatherings were cancelled.

Singapore’s economy took a nose dive. Property market went through one of the worst troughs and many businesses were severely hit.

Through the darkness of the crisis, there were many shining lights that confirmed the vast potential, strengths and resilience of humankind.

There were real life stories of love, courage, sacrifices and compassion that continue to inspire many of us and should become models for our lives.

From March to May 2003, the world came together to tackle a common enemy, a virus that was not bounded by any border or boundary. Leaders, civil servants, grassroots leaders and volunteers from different spheres of society rolled up their sleeves to stem the viral tide.

Thanks to all these heroes, we managed to stop the crisis within a relatively short period of time and prevent it from blowing into a full scale epidemic. We owe to all of them a huge debt of gratitude, one from which we will never be able to repay in our lifetimes.

These heroes included many researchers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and many foreigners who worked selflessly and in the frontline. They put their lives at stake so that we can put our lives back to the right track again.

In the battle against SARS, we lost five healthcare workers in the frontline. One of them is the son of a friend and I know that no words can come close to describing the grief and sorrow of these victims’ families.

I hope the SARS crisis or a similar one will never happen again. However, I hope that the many lessons that we have learned from it will stay with us forever, lessons that has helped us in our battles against H1N1 and a potential influenza outbreak and they can help us overcome many other challenges in the future.

In the era of the new normal or abnormal, social media can communicate the truths or carry unhealthy lies, half truths and misinformation to the public. It can unite or disunite the people, driving the people in the right direction or dispersing them in fear and anxiety.

As we live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, SARS taught us that we need to help each other more than we ever did before.

We need to cooperate, collaborate and co-create solutions to overcome many other crises; both known and unknown, predictable and unpredictable, that may threaten our very survival. They include natural crises, epidemics and pandemics, and man-made disasters.

During the SARS period, my company went through the darkest hour of our history. Yet, it was also one of the most enlightened periods of our lives.

Our Creator taught us lessons after lessons about how to survive in a crisis and succeed because of it.

I have recorded this experience on my Inspiration blog. You may wish to read about it by visiting:


or read about it in Chinese on,


In the aftermath of the SARS crisis, we went through the fastest growth, spreading our wings and providing more services to a bigger market. If SARS did not hit us, I am not too sure if we would ever feel more compelled to make necessary and much needed changes to transform our business model and operations.

Personally, it was a humbling period in my life as I went through what I have since then called my “half-death” (求生不得求死不能) experience. I believe I have become much more sensitive to others and more empathetic especially to the needy.

Along the way, my company and I became much more committed to give back to society. We have challenged ourselves to go beyond doing well so as to do good and make our world a better home.

SARS broke my heart in 2003. In doing so, I believe it has helped to transplant an even better heart into my being. It has helped me to better serve the people around me.

It taught me that together, we can learn more, do more and achieve more. Nothing can stop us as we seek the betterment of society.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

For my opinions on current affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Please visit my website, www.patrickliew.net

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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