TORONTO -- A Toronto doctor who lost three patients to the coronavirus in 36 hours says he’s dismayed by holiday shoppers lining up at malls for discounts while hospitals surpass capacity thresholds amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an emotional interview on CTV News Channel, infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy described the difference between life inside the COVID-19 ward and outside of it as “night and day.”

“The COVID ward is a place of desolation. It’s a place of quiet -- an eerie sense of quiet -- where there’s very little in the way of human contact and connection that patients would ordinarily have from their family and their loved ones. Because patients are in individual rooms, they’re isolated in the truest sense,” he said Monday. 

He’s seen patients die “very suddenly” after spending a few days forming bonds with them. It has been “absolutely heartbreaking” for him and members of his team at Toronto General Hospital, he said.

“And then I see parking lots that are full outside of malls because people are trying to beat the Christmas holiday rush before a lockdown to get a good deal on an item. It’s really hard for me to reconcile that and understand that there are these two very incongruent realities,” he said, adding that the virus isn’t an “abstract phenomenon.” 

“This is somebody’s family member that I’m seeing and I’m pronouncing as dead after I talked to them and spent some quality time with them a few days ago,” he said, suggesting that that reality doesn’t appear to have sunk in for many Canadians. Sharkawy isn’t sure how else to make it click -- he and his colleagues have “run out of dramatic phrases and alarm bells to ring,” he said.

The numbers don’t seem to be enough either. Last week, Ontario surpassed a key threshold for the number of patients in the province’s intensive care units, which will make it more difficult to provide other care and perform scheduled surgeries. It’s likely that pressure won’t soon abate as the province and several others across Canada continue to break daily records for the number of newly recorded infections. Another fear is that the respiratory virus season isn’t even fully underway yet, said Sharkawy.

“We anticipate a lot more people being sick, coming from long-term care homes, coming from our own communities. They don’t need to die,” he said.

On Monday, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador backed out of the so-called “Atlantic bubble,” which allowed residents of the four Atlantic provinces to travel freely between each jurisdiction. That type of swift action is what’s needed in other provinces, said Sharkawy.

“The virus is no different in Newfoundland than it is in Nanaimo or it is in Italy or Iowa or anywhere else,” he said. “Let’s learn these lessons. Let’s try and be more proactive and be more sacrificial and patient and it will pay dividends for us.” 


Dr. Abdu Sharkawy is currently working in the COVID-19 ward at Toronto General Hospital. A previous version of this story misidentified the hospital.