TORONTO — Toronto Western Hospital has closed its COVID-19 unit as infection numbers continue to decline across Ontario.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, who works at the hospital, said on Twitter he was “thrilled” to report that the unit officially closed on Monday.
“Let’s keep it that way. This is a testament to the benefit of following PH advice & the incredible impact of vaccines!” Sharkawy tweeted.
Sharkawy told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday that he is “overjoyed” by the unit’s closure and said many of his colleagues would echo the same sentiments.
“It’s been a very grueling, very difficult, very exhausting, very emotionally draining past 15 months, and I think this is the first time we feel that things are really coming down to a bit of a dim [and] might have some finality to it,” Sharkawy said.
According to Sharkawy, the University Health Network, which includes Toronto Western Hospital, has cared for 1,698 patients with COVID-19 since January 2020.
He says Toronto Western was hit hard by the virus, suffering from multiple outbreaks, one of which forced its COVID-19 unit to relocate to a new area in October. The hospital also had to install tents outside its emergency room in April amid a surge in hospitalizations
While previous waves of the pandemic have brought concerns of an “ebb and flow in the tide” of infections, Sharkawy said vaccines have recently helped to keep case numbers low.
“Canadians are really willing and interested and inclined and there’s a real energy around the country and right here in Ontario… to get vaccinated and to get back to those really precious freedoms,” Sharkawy said.
He added that the promise of lifting public health measures as vaccine rates increase has served as a “really potent form of motivation.”
On Tuesday, Ontario reported fewer than 300 new cases of COVID-19, which marks the lowest daily total since September.
According to CTVNews.ca’s vaccine tracker, more than 73 per cent of Ontarians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Sharkawy credits this to the closure of his hospital’s COVID-19 unit.
“I can’t say enough about how overjoyed I am and how thankful I am to all of my colleagues and really all Ontarians who have been very patient, working through all of this and doing their part to help everyone else,” Sharkawy said.
Sharkawy said the hospital will still be busy, but with other forms of care that may have been previously neglected due to COVID-19.
Sharkawy said the closure of the hospital’s coronavirus unit is “good news” as the facility can reopen and expand its regular services including accommodating non-COVID emergencies, surgeries, and cancer treatments.
“We’re now being able to accommodate people with non-COVID related issues and that’s really something that was a serious form of collateral damage throughout this pandemic,” he explained.
“The idea that cancer surgeries and cancer care, and all sorts of other important forms of health care can be addressed is something that gives me a lot of joy and fulfillment,” he added.
Sharkawy said it has been a privilege and an honour to be able to help inform the public on COVID-19, but hopes Canadians will see less of him going forward as pandemic wanes.
“The less you see me from this point on, probably the better it is for Canadians in terms of the pandemic,” Sharkawy said.