Two more die from SARS in Toronto

Monday, June 23, 2003

TORONTO -- Two more people have died of SARS in Canada, raising the country's death toll from the respiratory illness to 38, Ontario's public health commissioner said Sunday.

The victims were an 81-year-old woman and a 55-year-old male who had been ill for a long time, commissioner Colin D'Cunha said.

The government released no further details and said its next update on the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome would be today. Canada had 28 active probable SARS cases Friday compared with 64 on June 10.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported no new SARS cases Sunday, paving the way for the World Health Organization to remove the once-hard-hit territory from its list of SARS-infected areas.

Sunday was the 20th day since the last confirmed SARS patient in Hong Kong was hospitalized, and WHO was expected to remove the territory from its list as soon as Monday, health officials said.

Taiwan -- which once had the third worst outbreak of the pneumonia-like disease after Hong Kong and China -- was hoping to meet the same goal: On Sunday, the island marked its fifth straight day without a new reported infection.

38 dead

In the Toronto area, 38 people have died since early March of complications from SARS. The disease has been confined to Ontario province, but an American who visited Toronto came down with the illness when he returned home to North Carolina.

That man survived, D'Cunha said Sunday.

Canada's largest city has experienced two SARS outbreaks since March, prompting WHO in April to warn against nonessential travel there. WHO later lifted that advisory.

Thousands of people were placed under 10-day quarantine across the greater Toronto area during the largest SARS outbreak outside of Asia.

The SARS outbreaks also have harmed Toronto's tourism industry, with visits to Canada falling nearly 6 percent from March, Statistics Canada reported.

The SARS outbreak also appeared to be receding in China, the world's worst-hit nation. The number of patients currently with SARS fell below 100 on Sunday for the first time in months -- down to 97 from 123 the previous day, the Health Ministry said. No new SARS fatalities or infections were reported -- the 11th day without new cases in Beijing, which accounts for more than half of China's death toll of 347.

The Chinese government plans to lift a ban on tourist travel to Tibet on July 1, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily reported. The ban was imposed on Tibet and other western regions June 25 to prevent the spread of SARS into poor regions with adequate health care.

Tibet has reported no SARS deaths or cases, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong has reported 296 deaths from SARS and a total of 1,755 infections. As of Sunday, 49 people were still hospitalized.

To demonstrate Hong Kong's safety, Secretary for Economic Development Stephen Ip visited a hotel where the territory's outbreak first began spreading in February.

Accompanied by a group of hoteliers, Ip toured the room on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel where a mainland Chinese medical professor stayed and infected guests, who carried the disease to Vietnam, Singapore and Canada.

Also Sunday, the second hospital doctor killed by SARS in Hong Kong was remembered at a funeral attended by the territory's leaders and grieving colleagues and friends.

Dr. Cheng Ha-yan, 30, who died June 1, had volunteered to work in a SARS ward, but was infected by a patient who initially had no obvious symptoms of the virus at Tai Po Hospital.

Colleagues and friends -- most wearing surgical masks -- streamed in to pay their respects at Cheng's funeral, where an altar was adorned with candles, white flowers and a picture of Cheng.

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