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Canadian Officials React Angrily to WHO SARS Statement - 2003-04-24

A warning by the World Health Organization that travelers should avoid Toronto because the outbreak of SARS, sent Canadians into a flurry of damage control. Canadian officials dismissed the travel advisory and challenged the health alert.

Canadian health officials and politicians reacted angrily to Wednesday's announcement by the World Health Organization that travel to Toronto was not safe because of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak here.

Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health, said it was important to get out the true facts of the situation. "It is serious and it is contained, largely in hospitals. Which is, frankly, where it belongs. So we don't have widespread community spread."

Health officials from both Canada and the United States insisted the WHO warning about severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto was not supported by the medical facts.

Dr. Clifford McDonald of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, visiting Toronto as a SARS advisor, said the CDC has alerted people to Toronto's outbreak, but they have not issued a travel warning.

Toronto has done an exemplary job at preventing a community-wide outbreak, he said. Unlike other parts of the world, Toronto's infections have been limited to a small number of hospitals, households and specific community settings.

Dr. Paul Gulley of the government agency Health Canada, said he is sending the WHO a formal letter of protest.

Despite these efforts, Toronto's tourism industry expects the bad news to deliver another blow to the declines they have seen since the SARS virus first arrived here last month. Making matters worse, industry and government officials admit there is nothing they can do to change the WHO's message until the SARS crisis passes.

Sofar 16 people have been confirmed death of SARS in Toronto.