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World Health Organization Declares Toronto Free of SARS - 2003-07-02

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared Toronto to be clear of the SARS virus. It says it expects Taiwan, the only area in the world still on a list of areas with recent local transmission of the disease, to be cleared on Saturday if there are no new cases between now and then.

The World Health Organization has removed Canada's largest city from the list of areas with recent local transmission of severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome after no new cases had been reported in Toronto for 20 days.

The organization's head of communicable diseases, David Heymann, called the development a major achievement in public health and said it is hoped that this marks the final phase of the global emergency.

"Toronto has passed the 20-day milestone, that means that it has been 20 days since they last identified and isolated a probable case of SARS," said Mr. Hyemann. "This signifies that transmission of the virus within Toronto has been interrupted."

Although there have been no recent new cases of respiratory sickness reported in Toronto, a number of victims remain critically ill, and the death toll there could yet rise.

Toronto has had the largest SARS outbreak outside of Asia, with 39 deaths and almost 250 cases. Last week, the World Health Organization lifted its travel ban recommendation on the Canadian city.

Dr. Heymann says that if there are no new SARS outbreaks in Taiwan, the last remaining place on the list of areas with recent local transmission of the disease, it too could receive the all-clear designation from the World Health Organization on Saturday.

But at least 810 people have been killed since SARS was first diagnosed in southern China late last year, and Dr. Heymann warned that countries must remain vigilant to ensure there is no more spread of the disease.

"The threat of SARS is still with us and we must continue surveillance, intensive surveillance, looking for cases for at least another year," he said.

Dr. Heymann says much research is required to find out where the virus came from in nature and how to prevent it from coming into human populations in the future.