| SARS Hurts Toronto
Tourism, but City Said Safe
The mysterious respiratory
infection SARS has killed a seventh person in Toronto, Canada's
biggest city, but health officials insisted on Thursday the city
is safe to visit even though a convention of medical specialists
set to start here this week has been canceled.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome,
known as SARS, has sent thousands into quarantine and put a strain
on the country's health-care system, especially in Ontario, where
most of the cases and all of the deaths have occurred.
The outbreak spurred the American
Association for Cancer Research to pull the plug this week on
a five-day convention of 16,000 people that was scheduled to start
in Toronto on April 5.
The association said its members,
especially those with clinical-care responsibilities, wanted to
minimize the risk of spreading SARS among their patients, especially
those whose immune systems are already compromised from their
fight with cancer.
"It's a great regret to hear large
conferences that have been planned for years in advance have unfortunately
had to cancel," said Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer
"And it's not because of a public
health risk but because of a perception on the part of the delegates,
or their home institutions, that Toronto was an unsafe place to
come to. Nothing can be further from the truth."
In a sign that SARS fears may be
easing somewhat, Ontario health officials said hospitals outside
Toronto and its surrounding area could reinstate all surgical
services and outpatient clinics, while maintaining SARS screening
and limited visitor access.
Toronto officials said the city's
tourist losses resulting from the SARS scare could reach C$20
million ($13 million).
"Combined with the war in Iraq
and the slowing economy, SARS is just devastating to the industry,"
said Nick Vesely of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association. "Thousands
of jobs are at stake as are millions of dollars in revenues and
Canadian public health officials
insist SARS carries a very low risk to the general population
and that wearing a surgical mask in public is not necessary.
Such masks have been in demand
since the disease first surfaced in Toronto in mid-March. But
experts say protection is only required for people in health-care
facilities and those in quarantine who need to isolate themselves
from family members.
"There is no medical reason for
people to mask in public and we are recommending against that,"
said James Young, Ontario's commissioner of public safety. "We
unfortunately do not have unlimited supplies of masks and it's
necessary for us to use this supply in a wise and prudent way."
SARS has infected almost 2,300
people worldwide and prompted the World Health Organization to
warn travelers to avoid Hong Kong and China's southern Guangdong
province -- where the disease is believed to have originated in
The Canadian government put the
number of probable or suspected SARS cases in the country at 178
on Thursday, including 146 in Ontario. All the cases have occurred
in people who have traveled to Asia or who have had contact with
people infected with SARS in a home or health-care facility.
Symptoms of SARS, which is believed
to be spread via water droplets through sneezing and coughing,
include high fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Reference Source 89