SARS: TORONTO PINOY GROUP QUARANTINED

Toronto, April 17, 2003  (Inquirer) -- For hundreds of Catholic faithful in 
Toronto, it will be a solitary Easter this year.

The archdiocese of Toronto has ordered all its parishes in the city to omit 
drinking wine from a common cup during communion, to put the communion host 
in people's hands instead of on their tongues, to replace the kissing of 
the crucifix on Good Friday with a bow, and to give the sign of peace by 
bowing instead of shaking hands.

Bishop John C. Boissonneau of the Toronto archdiocese told people under 
quarantine to stay home, even during Easter weekend.

Easter week is the most important event in the Catholic calendar. Under 
normal circumstances, many adherents would attend masses on Thursday, 
Friday and Sunday.

"Some people may feel a certain tension or stress between what they regard 
as their religious duty and their public health duty. Let me tell you, 
their public health duty is their religious duty," Boissonneau said.

The restrictions were issued after Canadian health authorities last Sunday 
ordered all 500 members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos Covenant Community to 
stay in their homes because of possible infection by Severe Acute 
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

A cluster of 29 members of the Philippine-based Catholic charismatic group 
in Toronto had been identified as possible SARS cases. Two doctors who 
treated those who were sick were also infected.

The 10-day home quarantine order came after health officials found out 
belatedly that the 29 people shared something in common -- they were 
members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos and had participated in the group's 
gatherings.

This link to the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos was announced to the public on Monday.

The April 13 quarantine letter by Toronto Medical Officer Sheela Basrur to 
the 500 members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos said: "Failure to comply with 
these requirements will place at risk not only your own health but also the 
health of your family, Bukas-Loob sa Diyos members and possibly others in 
the broader community."

The Bukas-Loob sa Diyos in Toronto has announced the suspension of all its 
religious and social gatherings and has enjoined its members in Toronto to 
follow the quarantine procedures imposed by the Toronto Public Health.

"We recognize that the current situation will require each of us to make 
sacrifices ... We are deeply saddened ... that those quarantined will be 
unable to take part in parish or Bukas-Loob sa Diyos activities at Easter 
... As well, there may be financial or other hardships caused by these 
events, and we must act as the family that we are and support one another 
to the best of our individual abilities," the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos said in a 
statement posted in its website.

"It is part of our commitment to each other in our (Bukas-Loob sa Diyos) 
Community and to the larger community throughout Toronto that we do 
whatever we can, whatever we are required to do, to help stop the spread of 
a disease that has already damaged so many lives and hurt so many 
families," the statement added.

According to Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper, most members of the 
Bukas-Loob sa Diyos in Toronto are Filipinos who come from all walks of 
life. Some are doctors and nurses, and others are nannies and restaurant 
workers.

Authorities now have to trace the steps of these 500 people to see if they 
have infected others at the workplace or in other public areas.

"All the stops have to come out now. We have a short window of opportunity 
to try to contain this," Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Mount Sinai 
Hospital, said.


The infection among the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos members was traced by The Globe 
and Mail:

On March 16, an elderly member of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos went to the 
Scarborough Grace Hospital with his son for medical treatment. There they 
came in close contact with a 76-year-old man who a week earlier had shared 
a room in the hospital with a Chinese-Canadian.

This Chinese-Canadian was Toronto's second SARS fatality. He was infected 
by his mother who came from Hong Kong. She, in turn, was infected by a 
medical professor who had treated SARS cases in Guangdong, China where the 
SARS virus is believed to have originated.

The elderly Bukas-Loob sa Diyos member, Eulalio Samson (according to a 
Filipino reporter in Toronto who was interviewed by the Inquirer), died at 
the hospital on April 1 but no one knew at the time that he had SARS.

On April 3, several members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos attended Samson's 
wake at the Highland Funeral Home. By then other members of the family were 
allegedly infected with SARS.

Health authorities conducted an autopsy on Samson after his sons and other 
members of the extended family were found to have SARS.

The Samsons were quarantined for 10 days but one of the sons went to at 
least two other hospitals showing SARS symptoms after his quarantine had 
ended. He was sent home because hospital staff did not see a clear link 
between his symptoms and the outbreak at the Scarborough Grace Hospital.

On April 5, health officials issued a public warning advising those who had 
been to Highland Funeral Home on April 3 to contact the public health unit 
and to quarantine themselves.

On April 9, when health officials thought they already had everything under 
control because those who went to the funeral home had quarantined 
themselves and the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos had cancelled its religious 
meetings, a healthcare worker called their attention to two baffling cases.

The two, including a four-year-old child, were members of the Bukas-Loob sa 
Diyos but had not attended the wake.

It was only then that further interviews with leaders of the Bukas-Loob sa 
Diyos were conducted and health officials learned that the Bukas-Loob sa 
Diyos held a Mass and a retreat on March 28 and 29. They learned that the 
sons of Samson had attended the gatherings.

Yet even as the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos cancelled its religious meetings, many 
members had gathered to celebrate the birthday of a member.

This possible exposure led health officials to order on April 13 the 
quarantine of all members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos and 100 other people 
who worked with them in a city office.

A Filipino reporter in Toronto, Gerardine Marie Alcalde, said one of 
Samson's sons, Ed, is now in the intensive care unit of a hospital.

The doctor who treated the elderly Samson (who had died) had to close his 
clinic because he, too, was placed under quarantine.

The Globe and Mail reported that the spread of SARS among members of the 
Bukas-Loob sa Diyos has sparked fears in Toronto, with some families 
thinking twice about hiring Filipino nannies. It quoted Jan Preston, owner 
of Traditional Nannies, as saying that many families were afraid to 
interview Filipino nannies.

In Manila, Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said the Department of Health was 
working closely with Canadian health and Filipino consular officials in 
monitoring the situation in Toronto.

He said they were trying to get a more detailed report from health 
authorities in Canada to find out how many of the 29 contacts were 
classified as SARS suspects and how were probable SARS patients.

Toronto's health officials had earlier said that 19 members of the 
Bukas-Loob sa Diyos were suspect cases and 10 were probable cases.

As defined by Canadian authorities, probable cases are people showing 
symptoms who have recently traveled to Asia or have been in close contact 
with other SARS patients. Suspect cases show symptoms, but have no travel 
or contact history.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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