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When the WHO said SARS had stopped spreading in Toronto

The threat of SARS appeared to be over, but feelings of concern remained on the front lines in July 2003.

But medical officials remained cautious

WHO drops Toronto from list of SARS-infected areas

19 years ago
Duration 2:27
The respiratory illness no longer poses a threat, according to the World Health Organization.

The prime minister said it was "good news" the day the World Health Organization removed Toronto from its list of places infected by SARS on July 2, 2003.

"Still, the feelings of concern and caution remain on the front lines," said anchor Ben Chin on CBC's The National, introducing an item by the CBC's health reporter Maureen Taylor.

She found that Toronto medical personnel weren't quite ready to declare victory over the respiratory illness.

"I don't think we're going to feel confident, really, until the end of the summer, before we can kind of close the book on this," said Dr. Donald Low, a microbiologist at the city's Mount Sinai Hospital. 

According to the Globe and Mail, Low eventuually said the danger was over in December 2003. By then, there had been 44 SARS deaths in Toronto. 

On-again, off-again

"The crisis seems to be over," said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who said was "good news" that Toronto had been taken off the WHO's list of SARS-infected places. (The National/CBC Archives)

Taylor said Toronto had been "one of the first cities hit with SARS" and was "one of the last to be declared SARS-free."

It had been 20 days since a new infection was reported.

But, she said, this was a case of "deja vu" for the city, which had been taken off the list in mid-May 2003, then went back on 12 days later when a new cluster of cases surfaced at city hospitals.   

But now the WHO was congratulating Canada for its response to the virus.

Optimistic outlook

"I don't think we're going to feel confident until the end of the summer," said Dr. Donald Low of Toronto's Mount Sinai hospital. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Scientists ... have made a very valuable contribution globally to controlling this outbreak, which did hit more than 30 countries," said the WHO's Christine McNab from Geneva.

According the the Globe and Mail, there were still 11 people in Toronto hospitals in "critical condition" due to SARS as of July 3, 2003.

And Taylor said there was still some question as to whether the virus would re-emerge "with the cold and flu season next fall," said Taylor.

Low was optimistic, she added.

"If we get through the summer without seeing another cluster occur... this disease is gone," he said.

Maureen Taylor was a health reporter for CBC during the SARS crisis who has since become a physician assistant in infectious diseases. (The National/CBC Archives)

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