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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Tony Clement

Aired May 25, 2003 - 11:03   ET

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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Toronto is taking dramatic steps to try to stop the spread of SARS. Officials have quarantined about 500 people who may have become exposed to the illness. They're urging anyone who has visited two Toronto area hospitals to stay at home and call the public health office immediately. 33 suspected cases of SARS are being investigated at those hospitals. And officials say seven of those involve health care workers.
We're joined now by Ontario's Minister of Health, Tony Clement, in Toronto. Good to see you.

We heard from the Ontario premier yesterday, who said there's really nothing to worry about, that everything's under control. But yet, just within the past 24-hour period, reports of 25, and now 33, reported new cases.

So what is the situation? Is it confined to those two hospitals only in Toronto?

TONY CLEMENT, ONTARIO MINISTER OF HEALTH: Yes, Fredricka. What I can tell you is there are 33 cases under investigation, that does not mean that there are 33 new cases, but we are investigating, I think with an abundance of caution. We are saying that we are treating these cases as if they are confirmed of SARS because I think that that is the best way to deal with infection control and quarantine practices.

So from our perspective, those are cases under investigation. It appears to be confined to the hospital and health care setting. It is not a community-based series of cases. So that is the extent of the situation thus far, and so it is accurate to say that the community around Toronto is not in any danger at present.

WHITFIELD: Well, at what stage is it believed that the primarily health care workers, and others confined to those two hospital areas, were actually diagnosed with SARS, if there is this ten-day incubation period? Doesn't that mean that these people may have left the facility and exposed their families, or gone to public settings, et cetera, and exposed, potentially, other people?

CLEMENT: Well, that's the investigation stage that we are pursuing right now. That's why you have a much wider quarantine, what we call a safety net, as opposed to just the 33 cases.

What you do is, you find family members where there's been close contact or health care workers who might have gone in and out of the particular problem ward of the hospital in question. And that's why you've got a 500 number quarantine. But our experience to date, over the past couple of months, is that the number of cases that are picked out of that are much lower than the actual quarantine numbers.

WHITFIELD: So what's the status or condition of these 33 cases?

CLEMENT: Well there are certainly five of those who we would characterize as an acute case, or critical case. The rest have various symptoms that might be a fever, it might be a cough, and that may or may not be SARS. It may or may not be pneumonia, or something else as well.

WHITFIELD: What constitutes acute case?

CLEMENT: These are cases that have what we call incubation, that is, they have a respirator on them to assist breathing.

WHITFIELD: And the majority of these cases, then, have they been -- is it correct terminology that they have been quarantined, or are they just confined to certain areas?

CLEMENT: Well, the 33 are in isolation. They're in special wards to ensure that they do not infect anyone else. The 500 that you mentioned earlier are quarantine cases where they are confined to their home until a proper case study can be done.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much. Tony Clement, the Ontario minister of health, thanks very much for joining us.

CLEMENT: Thank you.

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