SARS Virus Claims 20th Victim in Toronto
TORONTO (AP) _ The World Health Organization said it is reconsidering its travel warning to avoid Toronto, where SARS claimed its 20th Canadian victim on Saturday.
The 77-year-old victim was the husband of a health care worker who previously contracted severe acute respiratory syndrome, health authorities said.
Canada was outraged Wednesday when the WHO warned against nonessential travel to Toronto. They complained the warning was unwarranted and damaging to the economy.
``We’re re-examining that decision,″ WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said Saturday in an interview broadcast on the CTV cable news network. ``I don’t know what the outcome will be.″
Canadian officials said Friday the advisory could be rescinded as early as Tuesday.
Toronto is the epicenter of the biggest SARS outbreak outside of Asia, where the illness originated. More than 250 probable or suspected cases have been reported in the Toronto area, with over half making a full recovery. The first cases occurred in the Chinese community, which accounts for 400,000 of the city’s 3 million people.
Evidence of the travel warning’s impact was immediate. The number of tourists dropped off as conferences and other events were canceled, including a concert Monday by Elton John and Billy Joel.
But the WHO spokesman defended the travel warning as a necessary step in a fluid situation. ``Responding to an outbreak is a fast-moving business,″ he said.
Toronto is the only SARS hotspot outside Asia that the WHO has urged people to avoid.
Despite the travel warning, a crowd of 16,417, the largest since opening day, turned out at SkyDome on Friday night for the Toronto Blue Jays game against the Kansas City Royals. The only mention of the illness was on a sign carried by two fans that read: ``What SARS?″
To prove that Toronto remains safe, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said his Cabinet will meet in the city next week instead of Ottawa, the capital.
But business owners said the warning already has hurt them.
Placer Dome Inc., Canada’s second-biggest gold producer, said its Vancouver-based senior executives would participate in next week’s annual shareholder meeting in Toronto by videoconference instead of traveling to the city.
A bus tour operator with daily trips from Toronto to Niagara Falls and airport charters for local hotels said business is ``going down the tubes.″
``There’s nothing going to Niagara _ it’s finished. That business is down 100 percent,″ said Lorenzo Durso of Swiftrans Services Ltd.
On the Net:
World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en/
Health Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca