SARS: TORONTO PINOY GROUP QUARANTINEDToronto, 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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