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Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman appeared on CNN Thursday night trying to allay American fears after the World Health Organization advised travellers to avoid Canada's largest city because of SARS -- and he wasn't in the mood to let the facts get in the way of a good story. The following is a transcript of the interview, conducted by CNN NewsNight host Aaron Brown:

Aaron Brown: Mayor, you're obviously disappointed in the WHO advisory. On the facts, though, where is the WHO mistaken?

Mel Lastman: They don't know what they're talking about. I don't know who this group is. I've never heard of them before. I had never seen them before. Who did they talk to? They haven't even been to Toronto. They're located somewhere in Geneva. And they haven't talked to us all. They read the papers and sometimes the papers exaggerate. And that's what's happened right here. And I want -- I invite them. I want them to come to Toronto this weekend. I want them to see what we've been doing, like the CDC were here.

That's the Center[s]for Disease Control in Atlanta. The United States are our direct neighbors. And the CDC said Toronto is doing -- you're a model for the world in what you're doing.

Note to Mel: The World Health Organization is a 55-year-old agency of the United Nations, and a highly regarded international health body. It has been at the forefront of public health issues around the world, including SARS. WHO officials issued the first worldwide advisory on SARS and have been in close touch with Health Canada since the outbreak was discovered in Canada. WHO officials received a steady stream of information about the SARS outbreak from Health Canada. The WHO is indeed located 'somewhere in Geneva' -- that would be the Geneva in Switzerland.

Look, we have 1,500 people in quarantine at one time. We're down to 180. We haven't had one people -- one person get SARS in the last seven days. And if we go 20 days, we've beaten it.

Note to Mel: As well, there were 663 people in quarantine in Ontario on Friday. On Thursday there were 257 probable and suspect cases in Ontario -- 107 of them were considered active.)

Mr. Brown: Well, and that -- isn't that exactly what the WHO is saying, is that they need to see three weeks of no new illness before they will re-evaluate the advisory?

Mr. Lastman: They want to wait three weeks. In the meantime, they're hurting Toronto badly. We depend greatly on tourism. We get 22 million tourists a year. And it's hurting. Yes, our city is continuing. They're moving the way they always do. They're working. The malls are jammed. But the hotels aren't doing much business. And the restaurants aren't. We need the tourists. And they're hurting us. And to wait three weeks is ridiculous, when they haven't even been here in the first place.

Mr. Brown: How many SARS cases do you know of in the Toronto area right now?

Mr. Lastman: Well, you see what we do is, we don't take any chances. We play it safe. Like 500 people went to the Philippines, Manila, Hong Kong and back to Toronto. We -- and one or two of them had it. We took all 500 and we quarantined all 500.

There have been in total about 8,500 people who have been quarantined, but not all 8,500 had SARS.

Note to Mel: About 500 members of the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos Covenant Community -- a Roman Catholic charismatic religious community -- were quarantined after members contracted SARS. The group has many Filipino members, but they did not travel to the Philippines. Instead, they contracted it from the family of a member who died of SARS contracted at a Toronto hospital.

Mr. Brown: Do you know how many . . .

Mr. Lastman: Only a fraction of them had it -- SARS.

Mr. Brown: Do you know how many?

Mr. Lastman: I'm not sure the exact amount, but it's a fraction of that.

Note to Mel: That would be 257 probable and suspect cases. We'll repeat that -- 257.

Mr. Brown: Do you have any feel yet for how much this has cost the city government or the provincial government?

Mr. Lastman: Well, I know at the end of the 20 days, we will be coming out with a $25-million advertising campaign to let the world know -- and that's only phase one -- to let the world know that Toronto is safe. You know, if it's safe enough to live here, it's safe enough to visit here. And let me tell you, it is safe. And people are not -- there's not that many people walking around wearing masks, surgical masks.

Mr. Brown: Would you say that the people, that the residents of Toronto, are too nervous about SARS right now, that they are too afraid?

Mr. Lastman: Some people are, yes. But most people aren't. You go to the malls, the malls are jammed. You use our city transit system, there's a million people a year using the transit system. We're -- people are still working, and they're still doing everything that they always do.

Note to Mel: Most Toronto retailers report drops in business, and some malls have seen traffic drop by 50 per cent. TTC daily ridership is 1.3 million trips per day; annual traffic on public transit is about 415 million trips.

Mr. Brown: Just two other things on that. Major League Baseball said yesterday that they recommend their players not use the public-transportation system. I gather you're not very happy about that either?

Mr. Lastman: No, that's ridiculous. I use it. And I'm going to be using it. And I'm going to be staying at a hotel in Toronto with my wife. And I am going to be going to -- I go to restaurants in Toronto. And I'll be going to more restaurants. I'll be doing a lot of this all next week.

Mr. Brown: And just -- are you at all concerned, you must be somewhat concerned, that you might lose the All-Star game this summer?

Mr. Lastman: Yes, I am.

Mr. Brown: Yes.

Mr. Lastman: Toronto is a sports city. And in the past, we've won quite a few championships. And I want to keep winning more. And I want this All-Star game. And we are going -- we are beating this. You know, it's almost gone. We've turned the corner. Our medical officer of health today made a statement, we've turned the corner and all we have to do is go two more weeks and we're all set.

Note to Mel: Slight exaggeration, but we'll give you that one. Toronto has not won a major league championship since 1993 when the Toronto Blue Jays won the second of two straight World Series. The Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. In the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup three times in the 1990s.

Mr. Brown: Well, that seems to be what the WHO is saying, whether they've been there or not. This is a most difficult time for your city. We appreciate some of your time to talk with us about it tonight. Thank you, mayor.

Mr. Lastman: Aaron, I thank you.

Mr. Brown: Thank you, sir.

Source: CCN's Web site,