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Old May 15th, 2003, 09:33 PM   #1
anabolic frolic
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WHO takes Toronto off Sars warning list

WHO takes Toronto off SARS warning list
WHO removes city from list of 'affected areas'
Ottawa goes ahead with Pearson airport scanners


RICHARD BRENNAN AND KAREN PALMER
TORONTO STAR

The black mark against Toronto has been erased by the World Health Organization.

Yesterday, the WHO gave the city a clean bill of health and removed it from its list of SARS-affected areas.

"That is the good news and we are absolutely delighted that the WHO has recognized that we have taken on SARS and we have won the fight against SARS," Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement told reporters at Queen's Park.
"Let's face it, we had a black mark that was right beside Toronto's name for all of this time and the black mark has now been removed because of our infection control procedures."

More than three months after the first person died of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto, the United Nations health agency declared the outbreak over, after a teleconference call with ministry of health and Health Canada officials yesterday morning.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced the decision in the House of Commons yesterday as he rose to answer a question about missile defence. Members of Parliament leapt to their feet and cheered the news.

Health Minister Anne McLellan said the news doesn't mean Canada can let down its guard about SARS, which has killed 24 people and sickened hundreds in the GTA.

"It is controlled. It is contained. Everything we have seen over the past number of weeks is evidence of that," she said. McLellan said she isn't planning any changes to airport screening measures.

"There are still affected places in the world and obviously as a country we're most concerned about importation of new cases after all the hard work to control and contain."

Premier Ernie Eves credited health-care professionals for their work in containing the disease and convincing the WHO that they were in control.

"I think a lot of people, especially the health-care professionals, have worked so hard in this province to contain what could have been a very, very serious outbreak of SARS," Eves said.

Mayor Mel Lastman will roll out the welcome mat today at Pearson airport, greeting travellers arriving in the city along with red-clad Mounties.

"We are pleased and relieved that the WHO reached this conclusion today," he said in a news release. "Toronto is the greatest city in the world, with enormous spirit. We remain a safe and healthy city in which to work, visit and live."

York Region was also toasting the end of its outbreak, which killed five of its residents and put another 5,000 in home quarantine.

Being removed from WHO's list means Ontario health officials will no longer have to prove that any traveller who spends time in the Toronto area, and later comes down with a chest cold or other respiratory illness, does not have SARS.

"We spent a lot of time dealing with authorities in Finland, Manila, Australia and in each case it turned out, to the best of our knowledge, not to be a SARS case," Clement said.

"The timing was perfect," said Dr. Don Low, the Mount Sinai microbiologist who was front-and-centre in the outbreak. "I think the WHO recognized what a rock and a hard place Toronto was in when people travelling through would show up with a cold and have it labelled SARS until proven otherwise."

WHO's head of communicable diseases said the decision was based on evidence that the chain of local transmission had not been broken and the city had not recently exported a case of SARS to Finland.

"We've been discussing this with both Finland and Health Canada," Dr. David Heymann said. "And assurances from both sides have certainly led to a better understanding of what went on."

Clement said the province must remain vigilant in its infection control procedures to ensure no new outbreaks occur. Infectious disease researchers must also comb through the Toronto experience and come up with some recommendations for other countries battling SARS, Low said.

In Taiwan, where a new spate of SARS cases appears to have renewed the country's outbreak, police were going door-to-door to check for people breaking quarantine. Some 10,000 people have already been ordered into isolation in the country, where 31 have died and another 207 were sick with the illness.

Thermal scanners were installed in some rail stations in China yesterday, in an effort to stem the move of the virus from urban centres to isolated, rural regions.

The same kind of device, which can pick up people travelling with a fever, is expected to be installed at Pearson airport on the weekend or early next week.

Dr. Hanif Kassam,York Region's acting medical officer of health, was sharply critical of the federal government for being slow to respond to the outbreak and for initially failing to set up SARS screening programs at Canada's busiest international airports.

Ottawa should have implemented stringent screening programs by the second week of the outbreak to ensure SARS didn't continue to slip through Canada's borders, Kassam said.

"Had the appropriate screening measures been put into place, many of the (SARS) cases we are seeing now could have been prevented," he added.

Evidence mounted yesterday that a mutated form of coronavirus is the cause of the pneumonia. When researchers in Amsterdam injected monkeys with the virus, it caused a similar pneumonia.

Ontario's medical officer of health, Dr. Colin D'Cunha, said there are only 10 probable SARS patients left in hospital and that Ontario has had no new reports of probable SARS cases since April 19. Disease control experts needed two full incubation periods — or 20 days — to pass without new cases before they could declare the SARS outbreak over.

A committee of doctors, scientists, policy-makers and infectious disease experts cobbled together at the beginning of the outbreak will be dismantled once the state of emergency is lifted, Clement said, although D'Cunha said the province will use the team to study "capacity issues" in public health.

Some of those experts may also travel this week to Asia to help countries there deal with ongoing containment efforts.

Dr. James Young, Ontario's commissioner of public security, confirmed yesterday that Ottawa has asked him to head a mission to several countries. Young said the team, which will draw on public health officials, infectious disease experts and emergency management specialists, may leave as early as today, though tomorrow is more likely.

"Toronto played a really, really important role in this as a partner and I'm hoping that we can put a team together and go — if that's what's required," Young said. As the medical crisis fades, the city is turning its attention to recovery efforts.

Lastman will meet today with mayors from the U.S.-based National League of Cities to discuss how Toronto struggled to contain SARS. The mayors, who are arriving from Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey, will also hear how the outbreak has hurt the city's finances.

The Toronto Board of Trade is expected to release a study today showing how the illness affected small and big businesses around the city.

Being removed from the WHO list also means convention organizers won't have an easy out when considering cancelling their events, Low said.

"The lift will definitely help, but still, a lot has to be done," said Daisy Wai of the Coalition Concerned about SARS. "It takes a long time to correct people's psychologies."

with files from Gail Swainson, Valerie Lawton, Caroline Mallan and NEws services
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Old May 16th, 2003, 03:29 AM   #2
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About damn time...

I remain amazed by the numbers of people who altered or cancelled their plans as a result of the ridiculous and highly premature health warning the WHO gave out. I feel Toronto has a strong case for suing the WHO for the damages in tourism they caused with their misdiagnosis. Simply ridiculous whistle-blowing of the worst sort.

On a more encouraging note, the news here in Erie conducted an interview of a traveller to Toronto on her return, and she said "noone in Toronto is concerned... I absolutely wouldn't cancel my plans because of SARS... it's clearly under control." It was encouraging.
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Old May 16th, 2003, 03:57 AM   #3
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the whole thing was blown SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO far out of proportion
i was there during the whole thing and everyone i came into contact with afterwords was freaking out
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Old May 16th, 2003, 05:04 AM   #4
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It was taken out of proportion but it's better to be safe. We really had no idea of how much exposure was required for infection and the sort.
China has been fudging numbers and the WHO was really really panicing as they just weren't ready to handle this. It also hit us during a pretty bad flu season so it scared people.
The local health people didn't make a huge effort until the warning when everything was stepped up a notch to ensure that we were handling the problems the best we could.
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Old May 16th, 2003, 01:22 PM   #5
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I posted this for the benefit of all the people who live outside of Toronto who were bombarded with endless Sars hype, but now that it's over you don't see "Toronto is safe" headlines running endlessly.
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Old May 17th, 2003, 03:12 AM   #6
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Of course not... climactic scary news sells. Safe, boring stuff - for example, the truth - doesn't. So we don't get much truth.


AHhhh, the joys of a corporate media.


I have friends who STILL are afraid to go to Toronto. *shakes head*

Americans... we're dumb.
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Old May 17th, 2003, 06:00 AM   #7
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WHEN I GOT THERE I ASKED JULIANA "IS THIS WORTH WORRYING ABOUT"*points at newspaper*
she says no

i get on with my life
end of story
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Old May 17th, 2003, 07:13 AM   #8
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^^^^ wise words.

Heed them well people.


Also remember - alcohol kills germs. DISINFECT YOUR LIVER REGULARLY IN CASE OF SARS.

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Old May 24th, 2003, 04:46 AM   #9
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let's all rail some sars at the next hullabaloo rave party.
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