Thursday, March 27, 2003
Outbreak prompts mass quarantine
But officials say it's unlikely severe acute respiratory syndrome will spread to London.
By Free Press staff and news services
TORONTO -- Thousands of Canadians have been asked to "quarantine themselves," wearing masks and in some cases staying home over fears a deadly SARS outbreak contained to the Toronto area would spread even further.
News of an extended quarantine came hours after Health Minister Tony Clement announced he had declared a provincial "health emergency" to try to stop the spread of SARS.
Toronto's medical officer of health said everyone who has visited the east-end Scarborough Grace Hospital since March 16 should remain in their homes for 10 days since that visit.
Their family members may go to work or school, but must wear a mask when at home and in contact with those who are at risk of infection.
"We're talking about over a thousand (people). This number will be in the thousands," said Dr. Sheela Basrur.
"This is an incident of unprecedented scope and magnitude."
But the associate medical officer of health for Middlesex-London said it's unlikely SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, will spread to London.
"Now that people are aware of how it spreads, it can be curtailed," said Dr. Bryna Warshawsky.
The greatest possible threat -- a direct spread from Toronto -- is reduced by the isolation efforts, she said.
No SARS cases have been reported in the London area, Warshawsky said. The Middlesex-London Health Unit issued an advisory last week to doctors about the outbreak.
The alarming comments from Toronto officials came as protective face masks flew off store shelves yesterday as anxious Torontonians sought to shield themselves against the outbreak.
The severity of the SARS threat was driven home when Clement announced he was using the province's emergency powers legislation to activate an action group to try to stop the spread of the ailment.
There have been 28 cases of SARS reported in Canada, including three deaths. All, except one case in Vancouver, have been in Ontario.
Dozens of Toronto households have been quarantined and a Scarborough emergency room was closed this week, as was a nearby elementary school when three kindergarten pupils began feeling ill.
A command centre will be set up and staffed 24 hours a day to co-ordinate all information from hospitals and health workers.
The government has designated the illness a reportable, communicable and virulent disease under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which lets officials quarantine anyone.
About 25 Toronto residents showing symptoms of SARS, many of them health-care workers, have been quarantined. Public health officials warn the total quarantine count could be in the hundreds.
On Tuesday, eight more probable cases emerged in Ontario, marking a substantial jump in suspected Canadian cases.
The SARS outbreak has sickened hundreds in China. It was carried to Toronto by Sui-chu Kwan, returning from Hong Kong. Kwan died of the disease March 5.
Health Canada has urged Canadians planning trips to the most affected parts of Southeast Asia - Hanoi, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Guangdong province in China and Singapore -- not to travel.