TORONTO -- A critical care doctor in Toronto is urging the province and federal government to begin coordinating the transfer of intensive care nurses from other provinces to Ontario as the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU beds across the province approaches 600.

Dr. Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, said Saturday that there are now 572 patients with COVID-19 in Ontario intensive care units, a new record in the province.

In a video posted on social media, Warner said the province saw a record 77 new COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU on Friday alone.

“Unfortunately the situation is going to get much worse. Now on paper, Ontario has about 2,300 ICU beds. In practice though, we have far fewer because we simply cannot staff them,” Warner said in the video.

“We can open up SickKids to adult patients, we can move patients from Toronto to Kingston and beyond, but eventually we will run out of places to move patients because we won’t have enough trained staff to care for them.”

Last week, SickKids Hospital announced that it had opened an eight-bed unit for adult COVID-19 patients in an effort to help increase ICU capacity in the city.

A spokesperson for Ornge confirmed to CP24 on Saturday that the air ambulance service has already begun transferring patients to SickKids.

On Friday, the province issued emergency orders that will allow hospitals to transfer patients to another hospital without obtaining their consent during "major surge events."

The orders came one day after most Ontario hospitals were instructed to suspend all elective surgeries due to the alarming number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

Warner said the influx in ICU patients means that Ontario hospitals could soon be forced to implement a triage protocol that would see doctors prioritizing care for those with the best chance of survival.

“This could happen very quickly,” Warner said.

“We need to get ahead of this. We need to anticipate this and provinces need to work together and I think the federal government needs to get involved to help coordinate the transfer of health-care worker resources from less affected provinces to more affected provinces, especially Ontario.”

He said the GTA is in dire need for ICU nurses to help care for the patients that are already in hospital and the ones that will be admitted in the coming days.

“We know the Atlantic provinces have done a great job because of their health-care policies and sacrifice of their citizens, but if we find ourselves in a situation where they are doing elective surgeries in Halifax and we a triaging patients in Toronto, that just can’t happen,” Warned added.

Speaking to CP24 Saturday evening, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott reiterated that the province has a plan to bolster hospital resources and increase critical care capacity across the system.

"We have the ability to create between 700 and 1,000 spots for people that are coming in. And we want to be able to ensure that we will be able to care for anyone who comes into the hospital with COVID or for any other reason," Elliott said.

As for transferring patients to another hospital without permission, the minister said she hopes that situation can be avoided.

"And if we have to do that, then that will be done in moving patients to the closest possible connection to where they are from – their home connection – because we know this is very difficult for both patients and families," Elliott said.

While she said it is regrettable to postpone some surgeries, the minister noted that it is needed to ensure that all people with COVID-19 or otherwise coming into hospitals can get treatment.

"I would say that for anyone who needs surgery to save their lives, and some of the cancer surgeries are in that respect as well as heart surgeries, they will still be done. They will still happen," Elliott said.

"But for anything else that can be postponed for a period of time, we will need to have to do that in order to make sure that we can get through this significant challenge that we're facing."

The minister also said that deferring elective surgeries will allow hospitals to redeploy staff to work with COVID-19 patients.

"We need to make sure that we have everyone available to deal with this situation," Elliott said. "We have a plan. We're putting it into action, and we will get through this."