Ottawa, April 25 (Reuters): Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien criticised the World Health Organisation (WHO) today for urging travellers to avoid Toronto because of SARS and said the federal Cabinet would meet next week in Canada’s largest city to show the world that it is safe.
Chretien also said he had talked to WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland this morning in another unsuccessful bid by Ottawa to have the advisory lifted immediately. She pledged to be in touch with him early next week, he said.
The Prime Minister — under fire for not doing more to help calm fears over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — returned from a 10-day holiday in the Dominican Republic yesterday. “We all believe that the WHO came to the wrong conclusion. We believe that Toronto is a good place to visit. It is a safe city,” he said in a speech.
“To demonstrate in a very public way our commitment to the people of Toronto, I am announcing today that the Cabinet will meet on Tuesday in Toronto, instead of Ottawa. And I will be staying at a Toronto hotel on Monday night and I will sleep very, very, very well.”
SARS has killed 16 people in the Toronto area and till yesterday there were 327 probable and suspect cases in Canada.
Before Cabinet meets, Chretien will breakfast with Ontario Premier Ernie Eves and Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, who are both also under fire for not doing enough to tackle the crisis.
Chretien disagreed with those Canadian medical experts who have accused the WHO of putting out its advisory for political rather than medical reasons but stressed he was sure Canada had the SARS under control.
“We are very confident, in fact, that we have turned the corner (on containing SARS),” he said later, saying that only a few hundred cases of the disease had been found among the five million inhabitants of the Toronto area. Chretien said his wife, Aline, would fly on the hard-hit national flag carrier, Air Canada, into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and spend the day in the city.
and be the guest at a dinner that night.
(With additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa)