SARS could choke Toronto docu fest

Fest director says event will go on

TORONTO — The World Health Organization has advised people to postpone “unnecessary” travel to Toronto following the 15th death from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — just days before the largest documentary festival in North America is skedded to kick off in the city.

“This temporary recommendation is an extension of travel advice issued for Guangdong Province and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China on 2 April,” said Wednesday’s WHO warning, which also extended to Shanxi and Beijing.

The advisory will continue for at least three weeks, twice the maximum incubation period for the pneumonia-live illness. Close to 300 people are suspected of having SARS in the Toronto area.

The timing for the Hot Docs Toronto Intl. Documentary Festival, which starts its 10th festival Friday, couldn’t be worse.

“We have no plans to cancel,” fest director Chris Macdonald told Daily Variety. Macdonald said there have been a handful of cancellations, with more coming in on Wednesday. But, he added, “we’re going to go ahead. The Ontario government is still saying it’s safe to travel to Toronto.”

Last year Hot Docs had 1,400 registered delegates and 30,000 at the box office. Macdonald said that the B.O. numbers are running close to double that this year, although, “I’m sure we’ll see a dip in delegates.” About a third of Hot Docs delegates come from outside of Toronto, and 15% from outside of Canada.

As of Wednesday morning, star international guests Werner Herzog and Nick Broomfield were still slated attend.

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