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SARS Quarantine Widens to Include Everyone in Toronto and Taiwan

TORONTO, ON (SP) — All residents of Toronto and Taiwan have been placed in quarantine as a result of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Toronto had already been on a heightened state of alert after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a travel advisory recommending that visitors avoid the city until the SARS virus is brought under control. However, during last week’s Toronto Marathon, all 6,385 participants were diagnosed as possible carriers of the virus when they began exhibiting classic SARS symptoms, including elevated body temperatures and profuse sweating.

Immediately following the race, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien exercised his emergency powers by ordering all 4.5 million residents of the Greater Toronto Area to stay at home for the next six weeks.

Many Toronto residents believe that the total quarantine is very premature, and wonder how the city will be able to function with all emergency service workers, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, policemen and firemen, sequestered for the next month and a half.

Others are concerned about the effect that the quarantine will have on public perception of the city. “We're still the laughing stock of the rest of Canada for having called in the army to shovel our snow in 1999,” said Toronto's Bruce Peters. “We might never be taken seriously again. Americans were already extremely ignorant about Torontonians, thinking that we all live in Igloos and punctuate every sentence with the word ‘eh’. Now they're going to assume that we all have the Plague.”

Not everyone is convinced that the quarantine is such a bad thing. “Until SARS came along, I can’t remember the last time I was able to get a seat on the commuter train at rush hour,” said Oakville, Ontario resident Cheryl Davis. “Highways and shopping malls are also practically empty, which is quite a contrast to the usual level of congestion in this city. On the rare occasion that I do enter a crowded store, I merely have to blow my nose or cough a couple of times, and everyone clears out of there faster than Ernst Zundel at a bar mitzvah.”

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman was initially opposed to the quarantine, but now believes that it is having a positive effect on the city. “Articles about Toronto have been appearing on the front pages of major newspapers around the world, including the New York Times,” exclaimed Lastman. “You can’t buy that kind of publicity!”

Lastman believes that Toronto will be more respected by the international community now that it's made the WHO’s who list of most dangerous cities to visit. “Even though we may have finished a distant fourth to Beijing in our bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the SARS situation proves that we can compete with them on an equal footing,” he said.

Lastman is also convinced that the short-term economic losses caused by the quarantine will be greatly outweighed by long-term gains. As an example, he cites the fact that he's had preliminary discussions with executives at CBS about staging the next edition of the popular reality game show ‘Survivor’ in Toronto.

Before the amalgamation of several Toronto-area communities, East York had the distinction of being Canada’s only borough. Now, the amalgamated and quarantined city of Toronto has become Canada’s only leper colony.

In Taiwan, the SARS virus is not nearly as widespread, with only 29 confirmed cases and no reported deaths. However, a national quarantine was imposed due to the number of residents who've recently consumed a popular local beverage called ‘Sars’. The root beer-like drink is so named because its primary ingredient is Sarsaparilla.

Chou Shiao-ping, spokeswoman for Hey Song Co., which has been selling Sars in Taiwan since the 1940s, thinks it’s ridiculous that people should make any association between SARS, the deadly virus, and Sars, the refreshing carbonated beverage. However, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian believes that there could be a connection. “Let’s not forget that the original recipe for Coca Cola contained trace amounts of cocaine,” he said.

Since the quarantine, Hey Song has announced plans to change the name of its Sars drink to ‘Artificial Ingredient Diet Soda’, or AIDS for short. Shiao-ping dismissed suggestions that the drink’s new name might create a different set of problems for the company. “Using that kind of logic, people would refrain from using Band-Aids for fear of getting AIDS,” she asserted.

Shiao-ping also denied that the name change had anything to do with the Sars virus. “We simply wanted a name that was more descriptive of the drink’s actual contents,” she said.

According to Shiao-ping, Hey Song believes that the Sars brand name still has a lot of goodwill, as demonstrated by the fact that the company has no plans to change the names of any of its other popular products, including Sars chewing gum, Sars toothpaste and Sars toilet paper.

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