TORONTO -- Ontario’s official opposition party says it doesn’t understand how nearly 100 front-line workers at a Greater Toronto Area hospital have been laid off in the middle of a pandemic.

On Tuesday, Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont. confirmed it will be laying off 97 registered nurses as a result of “a significant financial challenge.”

“Similar to some other hospitals across the province, Southlake is currently facing a significant financial challenge and has announced a series of changes to address this while maintaining the same high-quality care that we provide to the communities we serve,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “Given the number of current and potential future clinical vacancies we have, we are hopeful to avoid any frontline involuntary employment loss at Southlake.”

“These changes are aligned to the broader health-care system transformation underway in Ontario, which emphasizes moving care into the community where it is easier for patients and families to access.”

The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), a union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, said that the loss of those health-care workers amounts to about 176,000 hours’ worth of direct patient care.

In a statement also released on Tuesday, ONA President Vicki McKenna said that she couldn’t fathom how the health-care centre could cut front-line workers in the midst of a global pandemic and at the beginning of the flu season.

"With the second wave of COVID-19 and the upcoming influenza season, which will put undue pressure on all hospitals, cutting registered nurses is completely irresponsible,” she said.

"These cuts follow on the heels of recent announcements of RN cuts at Toronto Rehab and Lakeridge Health. This needs to stop and stop now."

McKenna also called for an audit to determine the budgetary reasons for the layoffs.

For its part, Southlake said that it’s deficit is unrelated to COVID-19 and “predates the pandemic.” The spokesperson said the centre is partnering with the Ontario Health Central Region on an independent, external review of its funding.

The staffing cuts come as the daily number of COVID-19 cases reported in the province continues to climb. While 335 new infections were logged on Wednesday, 478 cases of the novel coronavirus were reported Tuesday.

Tuesday’s numbers marked the highest daily case count since early May.

Speaking at Question Period, New Democratic Party of Ontario healthcare critic France Gélinas called the layoffs “irresponsible and dangerous.”

“Premier Doug Ford needs to move now to prevent these layoffs and support our hospitals now,” she said. “Now more than ever during this pandemic, the premier should ensure that our hospitals have the resources they need to deliver the care people need and to save lives.”

“Will the premier do the right thing, protect Ontario families, and ensure these nurses will be there to care for us and don’t get laid off because of lack of provincial funding?”

According to the ministry of health, Southlake has received a funding increase of more than $5 million this year to expand front-line services.

“Hospitals are in charge of their own operations and operational decision making. That said, when making planning decisions, we expect all hospitals to minimize impacts on front-line care,” the ministry said.

“The government will continue to work with Southlake Regional Health Centre to understand their systems needs as we continue to battle COVID-19.”

Southlake Regional Health Centre told CTV News Toronto that while they are laying off 97 registered nurses, they are also adding 49 registered practical nurse positions, 29 patient services partner positions and three social worker positions.