Toronto's SARS Scare Overblown?

Toronto General Hospital security guard Maurice Clarke sanitizes his hands as he departs through the staff entrance of the hospital in Toronto, Canada, Wednesday April 23, 2003. Canadians Wednesday blasted a World Health Organization warning against travel to Toronto, saying the city had the SARS virus under control and that the warning would have a devastating effect on the country's economy. AP

Looking around supposedly SARS-stricken Toronto on a gorgeous spring day, you might not see what you would expect.

"They all come here expecting to see masks, Red Cross people on the corner, but take a look around you -- there's none of that," Toronto Tourism leader Bruce MacMillan told CBS News' Jim Axelrod.

The masks are confined to hospitals. And so too -- say public health officials -- are Toronto's cases of SARS. Toronto, they say, is getting a bad rap.

"Toronto is the safest city in the world to visit. It continues to be the safest city," said Dr. Donald Low.

Low is in charge of microbiology at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. Monday he welcomed Dr. Allison McGeer who was back after missing a month of work.

"I was in the hospital for nearly 3 weeks, and it was pretty miserable," she said.

McGeer, one of Toronto's top infectious disease experts, contracted SARS as she was investigating it.

"A great deal of the experience with this outbreak has been surreal, and it's one more surreal aspect to the whole thing."

Surreal would be a good word to describe the effect of SARS on the economy of Canada's largest city. There hasn't been a new case in 12 days. But fear is proving harder to contain than SARS itself.

Hotel occupancy is down by half. Restaurateurs are sweating it out. There is talk that major league ball players may refuse to play there. And Elton John and Billy Joel cancelled a concert set for Monday evening.

Scientifically there is "no reason whatsoever" to cancel the concert, said Low. "There was no threat to them, their crew, to the audience.

Which is why so many people there are holding their breath waiting for Tuesday, and the WHO's decision on rescinding its travel warning. They want to stop the bleeding in a city that's hurting -- even if no longer sick.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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