MONTREAL -- Health-care workers in many Quebec hospitals say the situation is on the brink of collapse, as nurses, doctors and support staff work overtime to fight the second wave of COVID-19 and the drastically high daily increases in cases.

Saturday, the province reported the highest single-day jump in novel coronavirus cases with 2,038 bringing the province's total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 174,839.

The Quebec Institute of Public Health says there are 17,879 active cases including 1,005 hospitalizations.

Health-care workers say there aren't enough workers.

Nurses, doctors and support staff have been working extended hours with little or no vacations for more than nine months and experts fear the worst of COVID-19's second wave hasn't even come yet.

"There are many emergency rooms that are functioning at overcapacity without any reserve or any ability to compensate for the increased numbers that we expect," said emergency medicine specialist Dr. Mitch Shulman.

The pressures of the last year has led to around 800 nurses resigning and hundreds to take sick days to recover from COVID-19 or to quarantine.

This has led to an impossible situation for those still on the front lines.

"Morale is at its lowest that we've ever seen before," said FIQ nurses union vice-president Denyse Joseph. "Also the fact that the workload has not changed. It's just day after day either the same or increasing in some areas so it's very difficult."

The situation is critical in 10 hospitals across the province including Lakeshore and Verdun hospitals in Montreal and the Anna Laberge and Pierre Boucher hospitals on the South Shore.

Shulman said to avoid a crisis, the province needs to protect health-care workers first.

"You need us desperately on the front lines!" he said. "We should be vaccinating the nurses, the orderlies, the auxiliaries, the receptionists and the doctors who are working at the front lines first! So you have us functioning over the next month or two when you need us the most."

Concerns abound that illegal holiday gatherings will cause COVID-19 numbers to spike in January and further overwhelm the system.

The government is ready to crack down on those not respecting health measures.

"If you see people disrespecting the rules, do not hesitate to call the police," said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube.

Worse than a $1,500 fine, Joseph said that people going out to parties risking infection and spreading COVID-19 may force health-care staff to make very difficult decisions.

"If we do gather together and we do not respect the rules, well you may need an ICU bed but it doesn't mean the ICU bed will be available," she said.

Even with the vaccine, health-care experts say it's going to be a difficult and deadly few months before the population is in the clear.