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Looking back: Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak – Global News



A new coronavirus, which emerged in December from China, has drawn comparison to the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

Here, Global News looks at how SARS affected Torontonians nearly 20 years ago:

What is SARS?

The SARS coronavirus, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is thought to be a virus from an animal reservoir that spread to other animals and first infected humans in Guangdong, China in 2002, according to the World Health Organization.

Doctor on front lines of SARS outbreak says Canadian hospitals prepared for coronavirus

The epidemic resulted in more than 8,000 cases in 2003 and affected 26 countries, one of which was Canada.

In Canada, there were 438 probable and suspect SARS cases reported, which included 44 deaths.

Start of the virus and its transmission to Toronto

SARS first infected humans in the Guangdong province in southern China in 2002.

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A 65-year-old doctor, who had treated atypical pneumonia patients in Guangdong, travelled to Hong Kong to attend his nephew’s wedding. When he checked into the hotel he was staying at, he didn’t feel well. The doctor ended up infecting at least 12 others from several different countries, including a 78-year-old Canadian woman.

The woman returned to Toronto from Hong Kong on Feb. 23, 2003. Two days after she got back home, she developed a high fever. She visited her family doctor five days later, and by that time, she was also complaining of muscle aches and a dry cough.

‘Too early’ to declare China coronavirus a global health emergency: WHO

The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate, and she died at home on March 5, 2003. Two days later, her 44-year-old son went to the Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division’s emergency department to complain of a high fever, a severe cough and difficulty breathing.

The man was kept in the open observation ward of the emergency department for 18 to 20 hours, but by the next day, his condition had deteriorated significantly, and he was admitted to intensive care.

The woman’s son died on March 13, 2003, and by this time, several other family members were also sick.

“It was then clear that there was a cluster of illness in that family, and at about the same time, the outbreak was recognized in Hong Kong,” said Allison McGeer, an infectious disease consultant at Sinai Health System, who was at the forefront of the Toronto outbreak.

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On March 12, 2003, the World Health Organization issued a global alert about “cases of atypical pneumonia.”

In Toronto, the virus continued to spread to others, including hospital staff

Public health response

On March 13, 2003, Health Canada was notified of the Toronto cluster.

SARS continued to spread throughout the Scarborough Hospital, which led to it closing its emergency and intensive care services on March 23 and to refusing new patients and transfers from other hospitals. Anyone who entered the hospital after March 16 was asked to adhere to a 10-day home quarantine.

On March 25, 2003, the Ontario government designated SARS as a reportable, communicable and virulent disease under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which allowed public health officials to track infected people and issue orders to prevent them from engaging in activities that might transmit the illness.

What the coronavirus is, and is Canada ready for it?

What the coronavirus is, and is Canada ready for it?

One day later, Ontario’s then-premier Ernie Eves declared SARS a provincial emergency. Overnight, the province’s ministry of health and long-term care required all hospitals to create units to care for SARS patients. The province also activated its multi-ministry provincial operations centre for emergency response.

All hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area and Simcoe County were instructed to activate “Code Orange” emergency plans, which meant that the involved hospitals suspend non-essential services.

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They were also required to limit visitors, create isolation units for possible SARS patients and to implement protective clothing for exposed staff. Four days later, officials implemented the access restrictions on all hospitals in Ontario.

Looking back and forward

Looking at Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak, McGeer said officials got a lot of things right in the sense that they were able to control it.

“They clearly did enough right things to control the outbreak,” McGeer said. “Some of the things that were done were not necessary, but there was no way of knowing at the time that they were not necessary.”

According to the doctor, one thing that wasn’t necessary was quarantine.

“When we learned more about the disease, it turns out that SARS is among the unusual infections that was not infectious before people got sick,” McGeer said.

“Retrospectively, we needn’t have quarantined all of those people who were exposed.”

Mass quarantines won’t happen in Canada if coronavirus is discovered: authorities

McGeer said officials could have just told people who exhibited SARS symptoms to separate themselves from others.

Another thing that was unnecessary, according to the doctor, was the extent of hospital closures. If officials had data on likely patterns of spread between hospitals, they probably could have managed a different system that would’ve resulted in less hospitals being closed, causing less of a disruption to general care, McGeer said.

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“These are not things where I would say the government should not have done them, but with the wisdom of hindsight, now that we’ve had the chance to look at it afterwards, you can say we didn’t need to do them,” McGeer added.

A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms

A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more



The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.


Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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Vaccines donated by the United States and China



Both the United States and China have pledged large donations of COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. Washington has promised 80 million doses, three-quarters of which will be delivered via the international vaccine initiative COVAX, in what has been seen as an effort to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy. It began deliveries last week.

China had shipped vaccines to 66 countries in the form of aid, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing has not disclosed an overall figure for its donations but Reuters calculations based on publicly available data show at least 16.57 million doses have been delivered. China has also pledged to supply 10 million doses to COVAX.

VACCINES DONATED BY U.S. (plan for the first 25 mln):

Regional partners and priority recipients


Including Canada, Mexico, 1 mln to S.Korea in June

South Korea, West Bank and

Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo,

Haiti, Georgia, Egypt,

Jordan, India, Iraq, Yemen,

United Nations

TOTAL 6 mln 1 mln

Allocations through COVAX

South and Central America


Brazil, Argentina, Colombia,

Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador,

Paraguay, Bolivia,

Guatemala, El Salvador,

Honduras, Panama, Haiti,

Dominican Republic and other

Caribbean Community

(CARICOM) countries

TOTAL 6 mln



India, Nepal, Bangladesh,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka,

Afghanistan, Maldives,

Malaysia, Philippines,

Vietnam, Indonesia,

Thailand, Laos, Papua New

Guinea, Taiwan, and the

Pacific Islands

TOTAL 7 mln



To be selected in

coordination with the

African Union

TOTAL 5 mln

VACCINES DONATED BY CHINA (source – Reuters calculations and official data):

Asia Pacific


Afghanistan 400,000

Bangladesh Second batch of First batch of 500,000 delivered

600,000 on May 12

Brunei 52,000 in Feb

Cambodia 1.7 mln as of April 28

Kyrgyzstan 150,000 in March

Laos 300,000 in Feb

800,000 in late March

300,000 in late April

Maldives 200,000 in early March

Mongolia 300,000 in late February

Myanmar 500,000 in early May

Nepal 800,000 in late March

1 mln in early June

Pakistan 500,000 in early Feb

250,000 in Feb

500,000 in March

Philippines 600,000 in late Feb

400,000 in late March

Sri Lanka 600,000 at end March

500,000 in late May

Thailand 500,000 in May

500,000 in June

Timor-Leste 100,000 100,000 in early June

TOTAL 11.052 million



Angola 200,000 in late March

Algeria 200,000 200,000 in Feb

Botswana 200,000 in April

Cameroon 200,000 in April

Congo 100,000 100,000 in March

Egypt 600,000 in March

Ethiopia 300,000 in late March

Equatorial Guinea 100,000 in Feb

Guinea 200,000 in early March

Mozambique 200,000 in late Feb

Namibia 100,000 by early April

Niger 400,000 in late March

Sierra Leone 240,000 by late May

Togo 200,000 in April

Uganda 300,000

Zimbabwe 200,000 in Feb

200,000 in March

100,000 in May

TOTAL 3.74 million

South America


Bolivia 100,000 in late Feb

100,000 in late March

Venezuela 500,000 in early March

TOTAL 700,000

Europe & Middle East


Belarus 100,000 in Feb

300,000 in May

Georgia 100,000 at end April

Iran 250,000 at end February

Iraq 50,000 in early March

Montenegro 30,000 in early March

North Macedonia 100,000 in May

Syria 150,000 in late April

TOTAL 1.08 million


(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cooper Inveen in Dakar; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Coronavirus Worldwide right now



Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus now:

Australia’s Melbourne to exit lockdown

Australia’s second largest city Melbourne will exit a hard lockdown as planned on Thursday night, Victoria state authorities said, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings would likely remain for another week.

After two weeks in a strict lockdown that forced people to remain at home except for essential business, Melbourne’s five million residents will get more freedom to step outside from 11:59 p.m. local time (1359 GMT) on Thursday.

However, people must stay within 25 km (15 miles) of their homes, officials said, in an effort to stop transmission during an upcoming long weekend. There will also be a total ban on house gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors.

Deliveries of Thai-made AstraZeneca vaccines delayed

Malaysia and Taiwan are expecting deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Thailand to be delayed, officials said, the latest countries to report a holdup with orders from the Thai plant.

The delay comes amid concerns over AstraZeneca’s distribution plans in Southeast Asia, which depends on 200 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand’s king that is making vaccines for the first time.

Any questions about Siam Bioscience meeting production targets are sensitive because King Maha Vajiralongkorn is its sole owner. Insulting Thailand’s monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Indonesia aims to speed up vaccinations

President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday he hoped Indonesia’s vaccination rollout will hit one million shots a day by July, as authorities opened up inoculations to anyone aged over 18 in Jakarta to contain increased transmission in the capital.

Health officials in the world’s fourth most populous country, which aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people by next year, are trying to speed up the rollout after facing some supply issues.

The president said he wanted vaccinations to hit a targeted 700,000 doses a day this month and then rise again.

Singapore finds Delta most prevalent among variants

Singapore has found the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be the most prevalent among local cases of variants of concern (VOCs), according to health ministry data, highlighting its level of infectiousness.

There were 449 local cases with VOCs as of May 31, of which 428 were the Delta variant first detected in India and nine of the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Singapore reported its 34th death due to COVID-19, taking its toll from the pandemic beyond the 33 casualties recorded during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

U.S. forming expert groups on lifting travel restrictions

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another U.S. official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work.

The groups will be led by the White House COVID Response Team and the National Security Council and include the Centers for Disease Control and other U.S. agencies.


(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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