The World Health Organization says that Wednesday it will lift the SARS-related travel ban it imposed on Toronto, Canada. But while WHO says the SARS situation has improved in Toronto, a travel ban will remain in effect for Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangdong and Shanxi provinces in China.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, says WHO is canceling its advisory urging people to postpone non-essential travel to Toronto, because there have been certain important changes in the last week.
She says the magnitude of probable SARS cases has decreased in the Canadian city, there has been no new case of SARS in the community for 20 days and no new confirmed cases of SARS have been exported from Toronto to other countries.
"I need to remind you that Toronto still has an outbreak of SARS, and the lifting of this travel advice does not change Toronto's status as an 'affected area," she said. "I would also like to highlight that WHO recommended on 27 March, that screening measures be taken in airports for passengers leaving affected areas."
Dr. Brundtland says WHO is asking Canada and other countries that are affected by SARS to implement special screening of all airline passengers leaving the country. She says they should be screened at the airport check-in for symptoms of the disease to minimize the risk of exporting SARS to other places.
The health minister of Ontario, Tony Clement, headed a delegation of Canadian health officials to WHO. He says he is delighted the organization has decided to lift the travel ban. He says Dr. Brundtland discussed the new screening procedures with him and Canada will be implementing new and more effective measures.
"We certainly know that our vigilance must not stop," he emphasized. "Indeed, that we have a responsibility both within our own borders and outside our borders to continue the fight against SARS and to continue to win the battle against SARS as well. I believe the decision of the director-general and the World Health Organization is a particular testament to the hard work of Toronto and Ontario health care workers."
Mr. Clement says he agrees with the WHO director-general that there is a window of opportunity to contain SARS now. He says Canada will do its bit to prevent this mysterious flu-like disease from spreading around the world.