Recent global pandemics have highlighted the significant role international travel plays in the spread of disease. According to the World Health Organization, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was the “first severe and readily transmissible new disease to emerge in the twenty-first century.”
In 2003, a global outbreak of SARS began at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong, China. Several guests had contact with a doctor who had been treating patients in Guangdong, China with atypical pneumonia, soon to be known as SARS. The guests then traveled to Canada, Singapore, and Vietnam, eventually getting sick themselves and spreading SARS to others. Globally, 8,437 cases of SARS were confirmed across more than two dozen countries with approximately 900 deaths.
The SARS outbreak in Canada resulted in 250 confirmed cases and 38 deaths. Over 42 percent of the cases in Canada were health care professionals versus 20 percent globally. There was widespread criticism by public health professionals of Canada’s response to the virus, leading to calls for the establishment of a CDC North, similar to the Center for Disease Control in the US. This wake-up call for Canadian health officials resulted in the formation of the Public Health Agency of Canada including agreements for information sharing and mutual aid across Canada.