- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

From combined dispatches
TORONTO The Toronto Blue Jays are preparing for a weekend series against the Kansas City Royals but could be playing in a near-empty Skydome as fears over a SARS outbreak grip Canada's largest city.
An advisory issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) warning against unnecessary travel to Toronto has sent new shivers through the city of nearly 3million.
It is fighting to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has no known cure and has claimed the lives of more than 250 people worldwide, including 15 in Toronto.
Canada is the only country outside Asia to report deaths from SARS, with thousands more having been sent into quarantine.
Even before Wednesday's warning from WHO, the Blue Jays confirmed attendance had been affected because of fears of the flu-like virus, with group sales down by 5,000 to 10,000 and a noticeable drop off in the number of walkup ticket buyers.
Many of the popular Blue Jay bus charters from the United States are canceling trips, while a number of companies, provinces and countries are discouraging travel to Toronto.
Toronto residents are already wary of going out to restaurants, transit ridership has dropped and the decline in tourism has been devastating, industry watchers said.
In response Major League Baseball has issued a list of recommendations, cautioning teams and players competing in Toronto against signing autographs, riding transit and visiting local hospitals. MLB medical adviser Elliot Pellman has also scheduled conference calls with teams playing in Toronto to address questions about the disease.
"Each of the clubs traveling to Toronto between now and the All-Star break [July[ThSp]15] will take part in the conference calls," said MLB spokesman Rich Levin. "Obviously there is some concern, and Dr.Pellman wants to talk to the clubs to make sure they understand the precautions. But the games are definitely going ahead."
Some of the Blue Jays have expressed anxiety about returning to Toronto. Pitcher Cory Lidle's wife has left the city for the family home in Las Vegas, while others have indicated they plan to follow guidelines being laid out by MLB.
"While it is a concern, the risk of actual infection is still incredibly small," said Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations for the commissioner's office. "The advice we're giving to the teams is basic health advice: wash your hands, avoid sharing food."
Anaheim Angels pitcher Kevin Appier is worried enough about the threat that he wants his team's series against the Blue Jays in Toronto from May 2 to 4 shifted to Southern California.
"I think we should just switch and play that series here and move the one scheduled later in the season up there," Appier said.
Representatives of baseball's players' union planned to meet with the commissioner's office today to discuss SARS. Medical consultants also will attend.
"I think we're on the same page," said Gene Orza, No.2 official in the players union. "The important thing is to make sure the players have a good feel for what's going on."
Meanwhile, the WHO advised travelers to avoid Toronto, as well as some sites in China, because of SARS. Dr. Paul Gully of Health Canada said the organization will appeal the WHO's decision.
The travel warning will be active for at least three weeks double the maximum incubation period for SARS.
SARS has sickened more than 4,000 people worldwide and killed at least 251.

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