WHO Removes Toronto From List of SARS Hotspots

Canadian officials cheered Toronto's removal from a list of the world's SARS (search) hot spots Wednesday, saying it was "another vote of confidence" and proof that it was safe to travel there.

Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement said the decision was "an absolute vindication of our public health officials, our nurses, doctors, other emergency workers, everyone who fought long and hard."

The World Health Organization (search) announced it no longer considers Toronto (search) an area affected by SARS because at least 20 days had passed since the last domestically acquired case of the virus was isolated or had died. The WHO said the last such case was April 20.

"This is yet another vote of confidence in Canada, showing that SARS has been controlled and that it is safe to travel to Toronto," federal Health Minister Anne McLellan told Parliament.

The United Nations health agency announced the decision on its Web site, saying it was reached after a teleconference between officials from Toronto, Health Canada and WHO. It also was announced in the Canadian Parliament by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has claimed 24 lives in Canada since it was detected in March. All of the deaths and most of the more than 140 probable cases were in Toronto, the epicenter of the largest outbreak outside Asia, where the illness originated.

WHO issued a travel advisory on April 23 warning people to avoid nonessential trips to Toronto. It was lifted a week later.

Toronto's tourism and convention industry lost hundreds of millions of dollars in business as tourists stayed away because of the outbreak.

Once the potential threat of the illness was realized, Toronto health authorities isolated all suspected SARS cases, closed hospitals with SARS patients to new patients while restricting access to others, and told more than 7,000 people possibly exposed to the illness to undergo a 10-day home quarantine.

Following the lifting of the travel warning against Toronto, Canadian leaders invited the world to visit the city, with airlines, hotels, theaters and others offering special deals to lure back visitors scared off by the outbreak.