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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK
Toronto travel warning lifted
A passenger wears a face mask, while waiting for a shuttle outside Toronto's Pearson International Airport
Airport screening measures are to be tightened

The World Health Organization (WHO) is withdrawing its advice to travellers to avoid the Canadian city of Toronto, saying it is satisfied with local measures to stop the spread of Sars.

Canada - the only country outside Asia where people have died of the pneumonia-like disease - was furious at the WHO warning, which has proved costly for the country's business capital.

The world health body is continuing to advise against all non-essential travel to Hong Kong, the Chinese capital Beijing and the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Shanxi.

The Chinese Government has admitted that the Sars viurs poses a grave and long-term problem for the country.

"We will be lifting the travel advice for Toronto beginning tomorrow, " the WHO Director-General, Gro Harlem Brundtland, said on Tuesday.

The announcement followed a meeting in Geneva between WHO and senior Canadian officials.

The WHO said the number of probable Canadian Sars cases has decreased, there have been no new cases for three weeks and there have been no new exports of the illness from Canada.

Twenty-one people have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the Toronto area and a further 69 patients remain in hospital.

Known death tolls:
World: 812
Mainland China: 348
Hong Kong: 298
Taiwan: 84
Singapore: 32
Canada: 38
Source: WHO/local authorities

On Monday, WHO officials said Sars outbreaks had peaked in Canada.

But the travel advice, in place for nearly a week, has had a big impact on Toronto.

Conventions have been cancelled, hotels and restaurants have suffered, and the Bank of Canada fears the drop in business activity could lower overall economic growth.

In an attempt to demonstrate that Canada's largest city is a safe destination, Prime Minister Jean Chretien chaired a cabinet meeting there on Tuesday.

One of the WHO's main concerns was that the virus had been carried by someone travelling from Canada to the Philippines.

Canadian Health Minister Anne McLellan said Canada would tighten airport screening measures as soon as possible, and was considering using hi-tech equipment such as infra-red devices to detect passengers with a fever.

She added: "Sars is controlled and contained in the city of Toronto. It's safe and life is moving forward in a normal way."

BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes says the removal of the warning is victory for Canada, which has lobbied hard for this decision, and the change of advice something of an about-turn for WHO.

Asian concern

Toronto is to host a two-day international conference on Sars, beginning on Wednesday.

Worries over Sars brought together China, Japan and the countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on Tuesday.

The WHO says the spread of the disease has peaked in all affected coutnries but China, which has been hit worst and has more than 3,300 cases.

Thousands remain under quarantine at hospitals in the capital, Beijing.

The economic fallout from Sars paranoia is going to be far more devastating than the disease itself
Joy, US

"China's situation in terms of Sars is still grave," China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told a news conference after the Bangkok talks.

Sars was going to be a long-term epidemic in China, he said.

And he admitted that the initial response of the Chinese Governemnt to the outbreak - belived to have taken hold last November - was inadequate.

The meeting agreed a series of practical measures, including sharing information and screeing all travellers at border crossings.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent, at the meeting says that the leaders vowed to keep their borders open, mindful of the economic impact of the outbreak.

A common strategy for tackling Sars was also agreed by South Asian health officials at an emrgency meeting in the Maldives.

India is the only country in the region to have reported infected patients.

But not all countries in South Asia have effective checks in place at immigration points.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The WHO stamp of approval is good news for Toronto"

Sars less serious for children
29 Apr 03  |  Health

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