The decision was announced at a news conference by WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland after talks with Canadian officials, including the health minister of Ontario, the province where Toronto is located.
“The outbreak [in Toronto] has lower magnitude than seven days ago … so there is a different evaluation one week later,” Brundtland said.
The original WHO decision brought a storm of protest from Canada, which worried about the recommendation’s economic ramifications.
Tuesday’s reversal came after the Canadian delegation stressed to the WHO that over the past 20 days — double the disease’s reported incubation period — no new cases of SARS were reported in Toronto outside of the medical community.
“Dr Brundtland cited three changes in Toronto over the last week. The magnitude of probable SARS cases has decreased. Twenty days have passed since the last cases of community transmission occurred. No new confirmed exportation of cases has occurred,” the WHO said in a statement.
However, the WHO still classifies Toronto as an area affected by SARS.
The Geneva-based United Nations agency continues to advise against all nonessential travel to Hong Kong, the Chinese capital Beijing and the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Shanxi.
As China continues its struggle with the disease, its leaders stressed Tuesday that “a period of very hard work” would be necessary to control SARS and said that the illness was going to be a long-term problem.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told a news conference after a summit with ten Southeast Asian leaders and Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa that China would not cover up incidences of a disease that has killed hundreds and infected thousands of people around the world.
“China is in a time of difficulty,” he said. “There is a need for us to recognize the fact that the SARS epidemic is going to be a long-term, a complex, and relapsing epidemic.”
He said China’s steps to counter the outbreaks were “by far not adequate and certain departments have not done enough.”
But he said he was certain China’s efforts at fighting the disease were working.
“What we need is time. That is all,” he said. “I am confident that if we can truly implement our measures and after a period of very hard work, SARS can be brought under control.”
Wen said reporting of new cases of SARS in China had improved and that proper recording of all cases was crucial for controlling the disease.
“Reporting the statistics related to the epidemic is not only a legal requirement, but crucial to controlling the disease,” he said.
“We welcome the WHO,” he added. “They may send people wherever they want and to any hospital in China.”
He said China’s plight had received “understanding and sympathy” at Tuesday’s summit.
“No one pointed an accusing finger at anyone,” he said.