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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With Toronto Medical Officer of Health on SARS

Aired April 28, 2003 - 07:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Outside of Asia, Canada has been hardest hit by SARS; 21 deaths have been reported so far in that country. There are some 267 suspected cases. Most of those cases are in and around the city of Toronto.
Now, the World Health Organization plans to review its warning issued last week telling people not to travel to the city, and new reports say health care workers could have done more to prevent the spread of SARS.

Dr. Sheela Basrur, the city's chief public health official, is in Toronto with reaction on all of this.

Good morning, Doctor -- good to have you here.

DR. SHEELA BASRUR, TORONTO MEDICAL OFFICER OF HEALTH: Good morning.

HEMMER: There is a story developing overseas right now -- I don't know if you can confirm this from your perspective or not -- that the World Health Organization is now saying that Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada -- your country -- are in the clear for SARS. Can you confirm this?

BASRUR: Well, we certainly hope to be in the clear very shortly. Our caseloads have been dropping, it's been well-contained in the community, and we're now 12 days since our last case outside of a hospital.

HEMMER: Can you say you're at full containment, Doctor?

BASRUR: Well, at 20 days, we can officially declare this over. But so far, the signs are pointing very, very positively.

HEMMER: How do you respond to the criticism that indicates Canada, have a man travel to Toronto, an American, going back to the U.S. in the state of Pennsylvania, showing symptoms of SARS. Does this suggest from your perspective that the containment was not as good as you thought?

BASRUR: Well, in retrospect, we realized that there was an event that this individual traveled to and attended that was the source of infection for about a dozen people. And it's very regrettable that this person was one of those, but I understand it's been well contained back in Pennsylvania, which is his home state. And that's been our only confirmed exported case so far, which is good news. HEMMER: "TIME" magazine is also saying the first case in your country was not recognized immediately. It could have been contained, and it was not. How do you defend that case?

BASRUR: Well, I think it's a pretty big challenge to recognize the first case of something that has never happened before, and to treat it with a level of precaution that has heretofore never been applied for respiratory illnesses.

HEMMER: Now, did your answer, Doctor, suggest that this was overblown on the public stage?

BASRUR: Well, I think there has been a legitimate concern about the spread of SARS. In the beginning stages of this outbreak, it was a substantial concern for people like myself. We hadn't encountered anything that spread as quickly with such severe symptoms. But the good news is that we found that infection control works when it's done properly.

HEMMER: Canada is being criticized on three fronts -- excuse me -- China. I apologize. They are saying that Beijing failed to recognize it, failed to contain it, and then failed to tell the world. Do you believe your country was guilty on any of these counts?

BASRUR: Absolutely not. We actually were on this case from the very moment that we got the WHO advisory in early March, and recognized that this case and a couple of others in the family could exactly be this syndrome. Infection control precautions were substantially strengthened in all hospitals across the region, and we've been abele to contain community spread, as I say.

The disease is on the decline, and we look forward to the outbreak being over.

HEMMER: One final thing here, Doctor. Last week, a lot of criticism from your city of Toronto directed at the World Health Organization for the warning that went out, telling people not to go to your city. The CDC countered that.

Was the World Health Organization, was that edict, that report put out last week, was that unwarranted in your view, looking back?

BASRUR: Absolutely. The advisory might have made sense a week or two earlier, but it seemed to me that it did not have a good basis and fact at the time that it was issued. And in my view, it was a mistake.

HEMMER: Thank you, Doctor. Sheela Basrur, Toronto Medical Center of Health, live with us this morning. We'll talk again a bit later in the week, all right?

BASRUR: Thank you.

HEMMER: Thank you. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.




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