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BC Politics

BC’s Henry and Dix Sound New COVID-19 Alarm

Vaccine shortages will extend through February, a new surge is feared, and virus variations add to the risk, says top doc.

Moira Wyton 25 Jan 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

More vaccine delays and a failure to bring down the number of new COVID-19 cases have British Columbia health officials urging the public to double down on staying home and apart these next two weeks.

“We have plateaued at about 500 new cases of COVID-19 per day. This is too high,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today.

And while 11 community and health-care outbreaks were declared over since Friday, high community transmission rates heighten the risk for more outbreaks, Henry said.

The province is “at the precipice of rapid takeoff, particularly if any of these new variants start to transmit in our community,” Henry said. New variants of the virus are more easily transmitted, but not more likely to cause serious illness.

B.C. has identified five cases of the U.K. and three of the South Africa variant, all related to travel or close contact with someone who had travelled.

Henry said their presence in the province is believed to be under control. But people should still respond with stricter adherence to mask-wearing, physical distancing and staying home.

The risk is serious, she said. Case numbers are “at a point where it takes very little for it to skyrocket.”

Henry announced 26 people died of the virus and 1,344 new cases were identified over the weekend. Hospitalizations remain high at 328, with 68 people in intensive or critical care. Henry hinted further restrictions could come into effect if cases don't start to decline in the next two weeks.

“We are at the threshold of where we were in late October or November, and we need and know how to stop this,” Henry said.

Delays in vaccine delivery increase the concern for what could happen in B.C., particularly in long-term care.

No new Pfizer vaccine will arrive this week, as expected.

But Henry said that will likely continue into the first two weeks of February. There is also no confirmation that the vaccine expected to arrive in the second half of February will be delivered.

The vaccines require two doses for full effectiveness. Henry announced the province will delay administering the second dose of the vaccine until 42 days after the first dose, the last day clinically supported by vaccine manufacturers for best immunity results, in order to ensure all long-term care residents, staff and essential visitors receive the first dose as planned.

"This is about putting out fires before they get out of control,” Henry said.

To date, B.C. has administered approximately 119,800 doses of vaccine.

The news comes just three days after the province laid out its four-phase vaccination strategy, basing eligibility largely on age.

The delays will likely push back second doses for many health-care workers and the beginning of vaccination for seniors over 80 living in the community and Indigenous seniors over 65. Both were slated to begin in late February.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix urged British Columbians not to take the vaccine as a hall pass on public health orders.

“For the next two weeks, I am asking you to do more,” said Henry. “Take a step back, stay home, stay away from others, join in our effort to bend down our curve.”

“We can’t rely on the vaccine to protect us all yet.”  [Tyee]

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