Ontario hospitals have been instructed to stop all non-emergency surgeries by April 12.

In a memo obtained by CBC News, Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson said that elective surgeries have to be stopped to make room in ICUs for potential coronavirus patients.

“Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity,” Anderson wrote.

“We are instructing hospitals to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-emergent/urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.” 

On Thursday, the Ford government issued a provincewide stay-at-home order as a new round of lockdowns began in the province. The decision was sparked by a spike in coronavirus cases, including new variants of the virus.

The last time Ontario stopped non-emergency surgeries was in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. While it is unknown how many people died due to surgery postponements, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott estimated the number to be dozens as of April 2020.

The president of think-tank SecondStreet.org Colin Craig says the province is not considering the effects the move will have on Ontarians waiting for life-saving surgeries.

“Many patients will suffer because of the Ontario government’s decision to postpone procedures again. For example, the government conceded that upwards of 35 patients died in the first half of 2020 because their heart operations were postponed,” Craig told True North.

“It’s not clear if the government is taking the impact to non-COVID patients into consideration when they postpone procedures. When we previously asked the government for data on how many procedures they postponed in 2020, they told us they didn’t have any data. It’s pretty incredible that the government wasn’t tracking this problem.”

The government of Ontario claimed to have “no records” on postponements due to the pandemic, but the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimates 148,364 surgeries were postponed in the province last year.