B.C. announces new travel restrictions to contain coronavirus, lowers age for AstraZeneca vaccine
British Columbia announced strict travel restrictions at a Monday press conference while lowering the eligibility age for the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to 40.
B.C. Premier John Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provided a live update on the province’s COVID-19 situation Monday.
Horgan said new travel restrictions are coming to reduce the movement of people and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The province has asked the tourism industry to reject bookings from people travelling outside their local areas, he added, saying he’s confident tourism businesses will comply, but the province is prepared to enforce new orders if they don’t.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth is drafting orders to further restrict travel to stop people from leaving their health authority for non-essential reasons, he said. And there will be random audits of travellers to make sure people are complying with rules.
BC Ferries is going to stop taking bookings for drivers with recreational vehicles and signs will be placed along the B.C.-Alberta border to remind travellers that they shouldn’t be coming to B.C. unless it is for essential reasons.
The restrictions are slated to last through the Victoria Day long weekend in May.
AstraZeneca age eligibility changes
Henry said people in B.C. aged 40 and over are now eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine through pharmacies and, in some hard-hit areas, special clinics.
Officials released a list of 13 Community Health Service Areas that have seen the highest COVID-19 case rates that will be given top priority through the clinics. All but two of the communities are in the Lower Mainland.
People who wish to get the AstraZeneca vaccine through a pharmacy need to book their shot with the pharmacy itself. The province provides a list of participating pharmacies online. Pharmacies have limited supplies of the vaccine.
“We don’t yet have line of sight on additional doses,” Henry said, adding some pharmacy doses could go to clinics as well.
As of Friday, there were 191,604 AstraZeneca doses available in B.C. There are more than one million people between 40 and 55 in the province.
The officials said expanding the province’s vaccination program is the key to preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Henry on Monday said experience in the U.K. has shown even a single dose of AstraZeneca can keep people out of hospital.
“I’m confident that the benefits of this vaccine far outweigh the very rare risk of these blood clots,” Henry said.
On Sunday, Ontario and Alberta both started offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 40 and older after federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu gave provinces and territories the go-ahead based on new Health Canada rules.
Child under 2 dies
Henry reported the weekend’s case and death numbers along with the tragic news that a child under the age of two had died of COVID-19 complications — the youngest death due to the coronavirus in B.C. yet.
Dr. Henry says death of child under two due to COVID is a ‘true tragedy’
Officials say the death of a two-year-old child — the youngest to die in B.C. from COVID-19 — is a graphic reminder of how dangerous the virus can be.
Henry said the child, who lived in Fraser Health, had pre-existing health complications but the death was the result of COVID-19. The child was being cared for at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“It reminds us of the vicious nature of this virus,” Henry said.
Friday to Saturday saw 1,027 new cases; Saturday to Sunday saw 933 and Sunday to Monday saw 1,000 new cases for a total of 2,960 cases since Friday.
There are 441 people in hospital, 138 of whom are in intensive care.
Eight people have died of COVID-19 since Friday. So far during the pandemic, 1,538 people have died of COVID-19.
Restrictions banning indoor dining and adult fitness activities at gyms have been extended for another five weeks
Hospital capacity being closely watched
The officials painted an uneasy picture of B.C.’s hospital capacity Monday in a technical briefing ahead of the news conference.
They said at this time, the province is just under its base bed capacity — the beds that are normally staffed and available — but there is significant variation around the province.
Surge beds have been used at times which requires pulling staff away from other duties. That can lead to impacts for non-COVID patients such as scheduled surgeries being postponed and on health care workers growing exhausted from a year of pandemic duties.
The near-zero flu season has been a boon to the system, the officials said, but more vaccinations and adherence to public health measures will have the greatest impact on hospitalization rates.
They added there is evidence B.C. is beginning to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission, but the situation in hospitals is being closely observed.
With files from Justin McElroy