April 22, 2018

Report from Toronto: No Panic Here

By LJ Staff


was visiting Toronto on April 23, when the World Health Organization issued its warning about SARS. Like many of those in the city, we observed a noticeable disparity between outside alarm and local calm. The hotels have been hit hard, due to concern felt by tourists and business travelers, and taxi drivers say ridership is down, but the streets, restaurants, and–yes–libraries remained busy. No one wore masks. Like other Torontonians, library staffers were surprised and alarmed that the city had been put on the risk list. Then again, there was ample evidence of underlying concern. In newspapers and on radio, SARS dominated coverage, and citizens expressed their dismay that political officials had failed to show sufficient leadership. At Toronto Public Library locations, warnings have been posted on entrance doors advising people with SARS symptoms to stay away, and more than a dozen staffers are home from work because of possible exposure.

Toronto officials were furious with the WHO dictum, arguing that the organization had overreacted. “I am just shaking my head in disbelief,” said Dr. Colin D’Cunha, Ontario’s commissioner of public health. According to Canada’s National Post, the argument against including Toronto in the travel warning is as follows: as of April 23, there were 267 reported cases in Ontario, with 127 of those discharged from the hospital, a suggestion that isolation and monitoring have been working. (There have been 16 deaths, nearly all of them of people with underlying medical conditions.) The argument for including Toronto: the disease has spread beyond the initial risk groups of hospital workers, families, and other close contacts, and has resulted in a few people exporting the disease outside the city. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on April 22 issued an advisory that travelers to Toronto observe precautions to safeguard their health, but did not subsequently advise against visiting. As of April 24, Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto’s chief medical officer, said that the city had not had a new case for seven days.