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Last Updated

26 Jun 2003

Source: Toronto Sun, June 26, 2003

Outbreak 'licked'

SARS likened to bioterrorism attack


Toronto's SARS outbreak mirrored a bioterrorism attack, says Ontario's public safety commissioner. "Germs are used as weapons and they have the ability to kill. With bioterrorism, you get panic and death and the definition fits to a tee what happened with SARS," Dr. James Young said during the closing ceremonies of the 13th World Conference on Disaster Management.

"I'm not saying SARS was an act of bioterrorism, but the response from the health-care system would have been the same."

The city only got a handle of SARS because officials shut down all hospital facilities to all but emergencies, he said.

"It was clear if we didn't that this would get ahead of us. We knew we needed infection control immediately," Young said.


"We didn't have time to sit around for half a year and come up with a policy."

The hardest thing to manage was the public's fear of the deadly disease.

"Every time there was another rumour, we tried not to overreact."

To kill the fears, the SARS containment team held daily press conferences every afternoon, turning the experts into people more popular than television soap stars, Young said.

"It was like As the World Turns, but the less information people had the more they worried."

It has been 13 days since the city has had a new SARS case.

"I think we have this licked," he said.

Once the city has gone 20 days -- two SARS incubation periods -- the World Health Organization can take Toronto off its SARS-affected list.

"If we succeed and have any masks left over, we may use them for West Nile."