26 Mar 2003 23:33:55 GMT
Canadian province declares pneumonia emergency


By Jeffrey Hodgson

TORONTO, March 26 (Reuters) - Ontario, Canada's largest province, declared the SARS pneumonia virus to be a provincial emergency on Wednesday after a jump in confirmed cases of the deadly and mysterious illness.

The move, which gives officials extra powers to mobilize against the outbreak, comes after the number of probable cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the province rose to 27 from 18.

There are five suspect cases, and another 30 cases under investigation. The disease has killed more than 50 people worldwide, including three in Canada.

By declaring the disease a provincial emergency, Ontario Premier Ernie Eves now has additional powers to direct and control local governments, facilities, and equipment.

The government said it is developing a plan to increase the province's isolation bed capacity, potentially using new, unopened facilities as a way to quarantine patients with symptoms.

Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health, told a news conference that anyone who has visited the city's Scarborough Grace Hospital since March 16 should be in quarantine in their homes for 10 days from the time of their visit.

"They need to be at home under isolation from their places of work, school or other public areas. And if they have other household members all of them must wear a mask," she said.

World Health Organization officials believe SARS, spreading swiftly across the world, is linked to a disease that broke out in China's southern province of Guangdong in November, but they have yet to prove a link. Guangdong borders Hong Kong.

Symptoms of the disease, which is believed to be spread through droplets by sneezing and coughing, include high fever, chills, coughing, cold and breathing difficulty. Many victims quickly develop severe pneumonia. Out of every 100 infected people, three to five die from the disease, experts say.

SARS has spread to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Canada and Germany, infecting more than 500. Suspected cases have been reported in the United States, Japan, Britain and Australia.

The Singapore government on Wednesday said it would halt classes for the city state's 500,000 children to try to alleviate parents' concern, despite saying in a statement there were no medical reasons to close schools.