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Archive for Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Toronto travel warning lifted

April 30, 2003

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— The World Health Organization lifted its warning against nonessential travel to Toronto because of SARS on Tuesday, but in Asia the disease continued its spread as Hong Kong reported 12 new deaths, China nine and Singapore one.

The global death toll from SARS climbed to at least 355, with more than 5,300 infections in more than 20 countries, including probable cases reported for the first time in South Korea, Mongolia and New Zealand.

Travel warnings still stand for Hong Kong, Beijing and two Chinese provinces, as China's premier admitted his government failed to act quickly against the disease.

Beijing's new mayor said today that the SARS outbreak "remains severe" in the Chinese capital and that hospitals designated to handle the disease don't have enough beds for all suspected cases.

Beijing had 1,347 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome as of Tuesday, Mayor Wang Qishan said. The city has designated 21 hospitals to handle SARS cases.

But Wang, who was appointed last week to replace the city chief accused of mishandling the outbreak, dismissed rumors that authorities were planning to seal off the capital -- a city of 13 million people.

In return for the WHO's decision, the Canadian government promised to do more to prevent the spread of SARS by screening passengers leaving the country.

World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said the advisory was lifted because there had been no new outbreaks in the community at large for 20 days. She stressed that Toronto is still an "affected area" and travel guidance would be reevaluated if there are any new cases.

The decision to lift the advisory takes effect today. Canadian officials were delighted.

"Our city is safe and I want everyone to come and experience all that Toronto has to offer," Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman said.

Tony Clement, health minister for Ontario province, and his delegation met Brundtland for an hour earlier Tuesday in Geneva. They said Canadian authorities would introduce new screening measures on people leaving the country.

Hong Kong and Singapore already have put such screening measures into effect.

Health officials are stationed at Canada's major airports to watch for symptoms of SARS among passengers arriving from SARS hotspots in Asia, where the illness originated. All international travelers receive information cards on SARS, and similar measures now will be applied to passengers leaving Toronto.

Outside Asia, Canada has seen the most SARS cases, with 21 deaths and more than 140 cases overall. The majority of the cases have been in Toronto hospitals and health authorities have used quarantine and close monitoring and tracking to try to contain the illness.

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