WINNIPEG -- Dozens of Manitoba doctors say the province needs to shut down to prevent the health-care system from getting overwhelmed.

More than 200 doctors signed a letter to Premier Brian Pallister urging him to close nonessential businesses and put more restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

At the same time, the doctors are calling for teachers to get vaccinated, paid sick leave and financial support for workers and businesses.

The letter says a delay in halting nonessential activities will lead to more chronic illness and death.

“For prevention to be effective, we need to shut down when cases begin to rise. It is like calling the fire department when our basement is full of smoke. If we wait until the entire house is on fire, it is far too late,” said retired ER physician Dr. Lisa Bryski, who is the lead author of the letter.

“Doctors are voicing our concerns that we take this seriously,” said Bryski.

“Soft-pedalling into restrictions has led some other provinces into danger territories that they’re still struggling with.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Premier said the province continues to take a balanced approach to protect the personal and financial health of Manitobans.

“We will continue to act on the advice of Dr. (Brent) Roussin and our public health leaders and will implement the necessary measures to protect Manitobans from COVID-19 and to ensure our health-care system has the capacity to care for Manitobans when they need it.”

But the doctors are worried the capacity won’t be there as hospital numbers approach second wave heights.

According to Shared Health, there are currently 105 total patients in Manitoba’s intensive care units, 47 of those with COVID-19.

In comparison, the peak during the second wave on December 10 saw 129 total patients. Normal ICU capacity is 72.

“There’s patients there that are sicker than they’ve dealt with in the past because of the younger age and the quickness of how it’s coming on,” said Bryski.

The province says 20 of the 47 patients in ICU are under 50. It also says up to 173 critical care spaces could be set up if staffing were available.