COVID-19 variants on the rise, as B.C. records 564 new cases and 4 more deaths

B.C. could be looking at a “post-pandemic world” this summer if the province’s vaccine rollout continues on the right track, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.

It was a glimmer of good news as health officials announced 564 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths on Thursday.

However, the number of variants of concern continues to climb. Of the new cases, 46 were identified as variants, bringing B.C.’s total to 246. 

There are 248 people in hospital, 63 of whom are in intensive care. There are currently 4,743 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and 8,659 close contacts of confirmed cases are being monitored by public health. 

A total of 1,376 people in B.C. have died of the disease since the pandemic began.

The rolling average of new cases, as well as the number of active cases are at their highest point since Jan. 13 and the number of hospitalizations is the highest since Feb. 5. 

Henry said the COVID-19 variants of concern are highly contagious and the province is having difficulty identifying the chains of transmission for about 25 per cent of them.

Later Thursday, Vancouver Coastal Health said an outbreak has been declared in a fourth unit at Vancouver General Hospital, following a series of outbreaks that began on Feb. 21. The latest outbreak is in a surgical inpatient unit, where three patients have tested positive.

In all, 23 patients and 19 staff members at the hospital have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

During Thursday’s live briefing, Henry expressed optimism for the province’s vaccine rollout, saying the province will look at revising current timelines as more vaccines become available.

So far, 298,851 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 86,746 second doses. 

Earlier this week, the province announced an accelerated vaccination timeline and said it would extend the time frame between the first and second doses by up to four months in an effort to ensure more people can get their first vaccine quickly.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is expected to arrive next week, Henry said. It will be given, in the short term, to address clusters of cases, including persistent outbreaks in the Lower Mainland.

It will also be given to essential groups at high risk of transmission and other priority populations. This includes first responders and essential workers, who will have access to this vaccine separate from the current age-based vaccine delivery system, Henry said. 

Henry said she expects the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be approved soon in Canada. All of the vaccines available are effective, she said, and anyone who is offered one should accept it.

Henry apologized Thursday to British Columbians who recently had appointments for their second doses cancelled. She said decisions had to be made quickly and eclipsed communication, but that it was made in the spirit of “understanding data and maximizing the benefit to all of us.”

“That dose you didn’t receive … is now being administered to a community member, to another member of our family, our community here in B.C. to protect them,” Henry said.

“Ultimately, it will bring us all closer to getting to our post-pandemic world.”

Dr. Henry apologizes to people who had second doses abruptly cancelled

17 hours ago1:24B.C.’s provincial health officer said decisions had to be made quickly and eclipsed communications but it was done so more people can be vaccinated in order to break chains of transmission. 1:24

Vaccine timeline could change

Henry has said that any eligible adult who wants a COVID-19 vaccine in British Columbia should be able to receive their first dose by July, in light of the approval of the new AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the decision to delay second doses.

Asked whether there was a chance the timeline might be modified so that young people could get their first dose in the summer, Henry said she hopes that could happen “before the summer.”

“We are looking at revising the timelines,” she said.

“We’re going to be in our post-pandemic world by this summer if things continue to go the way we want them to.”

Earlier this week, Henry and Dix signalled that current restrictions on everyday life will not be lifted in the near future — or at least not until a much larger portion of the population has been vaccinated.

On Thursday, Henry acknowledged there could be unforeseen complications but said the province is doing its best to ensure the vaccine rollout happens smoothly. 

“I think by the summer we’re going to be able to do a lot more of those connections that we need,” she said. 

Until then, she urged British Columbians to abide by measures like physical distancing to keep transmission low.

“We are in a new place right now in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Henry said.

“We can’t let the successes of these great vaccines that we have now be diminished by a surge in cases.”

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