TORONTO -- Hospitals in the province are required to halt all non-emergent surgeries and non-urgent procedures immediately as people with COVID-19 continue to fill up hospitals and put the healthcare system under strain amid the third wave.

The new directive came from Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, and was issued on Tuesday. 

According to the directive, the decision on postponement of surgeries "should be made using processes that are fair and transparent to all patients."

Earlier this month, Ontario Health instructed hospitals to ramp down on elective surgeries to create more capacity for hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients. The province also issued emergency orders that give hospitals the authority to transfer patients to another hospital without their consent.

"This directive, in addition to the emergency orders recently issued are being taken in response to escalating case counts,which have led to increasing hospitalization and ICU occupancy rates which are already over the peak of wave two," a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement to CP24 Wednesday evening.

"This decision will be closely monitored on an ongoing basis with the intention of bringing on surgical capacity as soon as safely possible."

The third wave, which is fuelled by more transmissible and more deadly coronavirus variants, has put pressure on hospital capacity with record patients with COVID-19 in the ICU. 

Last week, a senior Ontario Health official said triage protocols could be activated if patients in ICU surpass 900. As of Wednesday, there are 790 patients in intensive care.

According to Public Health Ontario, as of April 15, 90 per cent of samples screened come back positive for one of the three variants.

"Clinicians are in the best position to determine what are urgent and emergent surgeries and procedures in their specific health practice and should rely on evidence and guidance where available," the directive reads.

It has laid out four principles that can guide hospitals in deciding which surgeries should be prioritized.

The order does not apply to pediatric specialty hospitals.

"This is completely unconscionable. But there's nothing we can do about it when there is only so much human resource to go around to care for patients in a safe manner. And this is a tragedy that should never have happened if we prepare for it properly," infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CP24 Tonight.

He said procedures like cancer surgeries and organ transplants could be affected by the ramp down.

"And if we want to turn it around, it's going to take addressing these root causes," Sharkawy said. "Paying attention to places like Brampton and Scarborough and Peel and understanding that if we try and address the people that are most vulnerable, more at risk, we'll start to get this under control. If not, it's going to be a full-blown healthcare capacity, disaster."