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WHO Removes Toronto From SARS List


Excerpt By Naomi Koppel, AP

GENEVA - The World Health Organization removed Toronto from its list of SARS-infected areas Wednesday, saying Canada's largest city had contained the virus.

The decision means only Taiwan remains on the once-lengthy list of countries reporting transmissions in the last 20 days. It, too, will likely be removed Saturday if it has no new cases.

"This is a great achievement for public health in what we hope is the final phase of the global emergency," said David Heymann, WHO's head of communicable diseases. "Toronto faced an especially challenging outbreak."

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman called the news "wonderful" and said health officials would remain vigilant to prevent a recurrence of SARS in the city of 3 million.

"I know we're going to be very careful and do things right," he said by telephone from Italy.

Toronto had the largest SARS outbreak outside of Asia, with 39 deaths and almost 250 cases. More than 27,000 people in and around the city were forced into quarantine during the two outbreaks — one in March and April, the second in May and June.

Although there have been no recent new cases, a number of people remain critically ill and the death toll could rise. The latest death Sunday was a nurse — the first Canadian health care worker to die from SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The illness has devastated the crucial tourism industry in Toronto and southern Ontario, with hotels, airlines and restaurants reporting decreased business in what is usually the high summer season.

Lastman has long insisted Toronto was safe for visitors despite the SARS outbreak, noting that transmission of the illness has occurred almost exclusively in hospitals.

"We don't have people wearing masks. You only see people wearing masks on CNN," he said Wednesday. "You cannot catch SARS on the streets of Toronto."

Ontario and city officials have launched advertising campaigns to lure back visitors, and are planning a huge outdoor concert on July 30 featuring the Rolling Stones and other groups to revitalize Toronto's image as a tourism destination.

Canada was one of the first places affected by SARS, which is believed to have started in southern China and spread to other places through air travel.

The WHO in April warned travelers against all but essential travel to Toronto. It lifted the warning a week later, but a second outbreak of the virus in May prolonged the harm to regional tourism.

The WHO's announcement is a timely boost for officials from the Canadian city of Vancouver who are bidding for the right to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The decision from the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Prague, is expected later Wednesday.


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