It would take me about 90 minutes to drive to Toronto. I wouldn't break plans to see my friends let alone give up tickets for the Lion King. If you are paranoid buy a box of N95 masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Personally I think it is a great time to go and visit as there aren't the usual number of tourists
TORONTO -- The World Health Organization's warning against travelling to Toronto is a ridiculous and unnecessary move, says the microbiologist at the front lines of battling the SARS outbreak that's crippling the country's biggest city.
"This is really inappropriate and I don't know how they came to that conclusion,'' Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at the city's Mount Sinai Hospital, told Toronto radio station 680 News on Wednesday.
"The fact we have not seen any further secondary cases over the last two weeks tells us it has been contained ... no further dissemination -- therefore the community is not at risk.''
The WHO said earlier in the day that travellers should avoid Toronto, Beijing and China's Shanxi province because of the danger of SARS.
In the global health agency's latest move to stem the spread of the virus worldwide, the three locations joined Hong Kong and the Chinese province of Guangdong as no-go areas for visitors.
"Today, we're recommending that people who have unnecessary travel to Shanxi, to Beijing and to Toronto postpone that travel if possible because, as was the case for Hong Kong and Guangdong, these areas now have quite a high magnitude of disease, a great risk of transmission locally -- outside of the usual health workers -- and also they've been exporting cases to other countries,'' said Dr. David Heymann, communicable diseases chief for the WHO.
The news was met with dread by Toronto's business community, already reeling from the financial repercussions of the SARS outbreak so far in the city, where 15 people have died.
Rick Naylor, head of Accucom, a company that organizes trade shows to Toronto, says conventions are the city's lifeblood and predicted the WHO warning will be devastating.
"The ripple effect is huge because the hotel industry, the restaurant industry, sporting events -- everything filters out of that,'' Naylor said. "The economic impact is huge -- it's not just the conventions, it's the offshoot businesses that are affected.''
The travel warning will be active for at least three weeks -- double the maximum incubation period for SARS, Heymann said.
Another WHO spokesman cited the transmission of cases outside of hospitals as one reason Canada's largest city was added to the travel advisory.
"The reason that the recommendation was put in place was because of the exportation of cases, transmission outside the hospital setting and ... the large number of cases,'' Dick Thompson told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview from Geneva.
Asked if the decision had been a difficult one to make, Thompson replied: "In one sense it's not difficult because it's a public health issue.''
"We realize there is an impact on the community,'' he added, "but this is a temporary recommendation. It will be reviewed in three weeks.''
Meanwhile, the WHO will be looking to see if any other cases of the disease were being exported to areas outside Toronto.
The tightening of international travel marks the first time a location outside of Asia has been targeted.
Toronto, which was the first place outside Asia that the disease was detected, has always been a special concern to health officials because of the continued spread of SARS in the community despite tough health measures.
"Toronto last week had an exportation (of the disease) which set up a cluster of five cases in health workers in another country,'' said Heymann, who spoke by telephone from Thailand. "This is what called it again to our attention.''
He would not say where the disease had spread to from the Canadian city.
Overall, more than 300 suspected or probable cases of SARS have been reported in Canada, but the most cases by far have been in the Toronto area.