WINNIPEG -- Overcapacity protocols and the regional flu plan have been activated in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"Since Boxing Day, Winnipeg’s hospitals have seen increased volumes of patients in the emergency departments and Urgent Care Centres, increased ambulance arrivals, and more patients needing admission than usual,” said the region’s chief health operations officer and chief nursing officer Krista Williams in a written statement to CTV News. “Our critical care program has also experienced a surge of demand in recent days.”

The increase is because three respiratory viruses are circulating at the same time, according to an email sent out to staff Friday from Williams and WRHA CEO Real Cloutier.

“This is a challenging time but all hands are on deck and we are monitoring the situation and meeting every day to ensure we are doing what we can to provide safe care,” reads the email.

It explains there have been lab-confirmed cases of influenza A and B, as well as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) all at the same time.

“To have all three viruses surge at once is unusual,” the email reads. “Most years, each virus starts and peaks at a different time. These viruses are impacting our patients as well as many staff who have also become sick.”

Williams tells CTV News the protocols and plans that have been triggered are flexible to change, based on patient demand.

“This includes close monitoring and daily capacity calls, using flex and overcapacity space and beds, off-servicing to other program beds, actively offering additional shifts to staff and asking any nurse in the hospitals with ICU experience if they are interested in voluntarily picking up shifts,” she said.

According to the provincial flu report for the week of December 22-28, 2019 activity is increasing.

It said the number of emergency room visits for respiratory illness was the highest it has been in the last three seasons and the majority of those were to the Children's Emergency Department of Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

Manitoba Health recommends Manitobans aged six months or older get the flu shot. It is available for free and covers two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B predicted to be going around this year.

“To help ward off the flu, it is important to shield your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands regularly and stay home when you are sick,” said a statement from Dr. Michael Isaac, acting Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.

It also said if people have questions about managing respiratory illnesses like the flu, call your primary care provider, public health nurse, pharmacist or call Health Links-Info Santé (24 hours a day, 204-788-8200; Toll-free 1-888-315-9257).