TORONTO (Reuters) – Health officials in Ontario warned on Monday that people could face legal penalties if they violate SARS quarantine as the Toronto area struggles to come to grips with an outbreak of the deadly flu-like virus.
TORONTO (Reuters) – Health officials in Ontario warned on Monday that people could face legal penalties if they violate SARS quarantine as the Toronto area struggles to come to grips with an outbreak of the deadly flu-like virus.Canadian officials raised the death toll to 32 people, adding the death on May 20 of a 60-year-old man to the list after conducting a review of recent suspicious deaths.Officials, who are still examining three other deaths they now believe may have been SARS-related, said about 6,800 people are in quarantine in Toronto and its suburbs. That does not include 5,200 health workers in so-called “working quarantine” — they go to work but wear masks and avoid public transportation.The precautionary quarantines have not been without their problems with some high school students seen shopping and visiting other schools despite being ordered to stay home and avoid public contact because of possible exposure to severe acute respiratory syndrome.In a bid to emphasize the need to observe quarantine rules, Ontario Health Minister Tony Clement said he would chain people to their beds if all else fails.”The minister does not think we have to get to that point,” said spokesman Paul Cantin. “But people need to understand the context of it. I don’t think anyone is seriously talking about using a chain to a bed, but there is a power to detain people as a last resort.”Those breaking the rules risk being hit with fines of C$5,000 ($3,650) a day or court-ordered isolation.Health authorities in York Region north of Toronto, where 1,500 high school students were sent into in quarantine, say they were informed that 10 to 20 of the students had been seen in the community. But when they called to check, the students were at home so no legal action has been taken.Patrick Casey, a spokesman with the health department in York, said the students ordered into quarantine are “asymptomatic, which is a good thing; however, they do have the possibility of being exposed to SARS and the risk is we could see it spread by people violating their quarantine.”The students’ quarantine ends on June 2.QUARANTINE RULESSARS quarantine rules require wearing a surgical mask when you are in the same room as another family member, sleeping in separate rooms if possible, not sharing any personal items such as towels and utensils, and bathing rather than showering as water droplets can spread the virus. Isolation lasts 10 days.”People are obviously inconvenienced,” said Dr. Jim Young, Ontario’s commissioner of public safety. “But they have to do it.”For those who do not comply with voluntary isolation, a health officer can issue a “Section 22″ order to keep them in quarantine, and fine them C$5,000 a day if convicted.For those who defy the order, health officials can get a court order for hospital isolation under police guard.Toronto health authorities have issued five Section 22 orders during the outbreak of SARS, which emerged about 10 days ago. They had issued 19 during the previous outbreak in March and April. No new Section 22 orders have been issued in York, where the previous outbreak saw 14 issued.”If those who are minors who should be in quarantine, and they think they might be able to step around this, the joke is on them because their parents could be the one subject to the C$5,000 fine, ” said John Letherby, a spokesman for Ontario’s health ministry.(Source: Reuters, Mon June 2, 2003 05:26 PM ET, By Rajiv Sekhri)