Henry urges close contacts of COVID-19 cases in B.C. to 'stay away from others'

VICTORIA — British Columbia is likely in for a "rough ride" in the coming days before the calming effects of COVID-19 restrictions kick in, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.

Henry said 11,608 people have been identified as close contacts of recent COVID-19 cases and she emphasized the importance of self-isolation among those exposed during the 14-day incubation period.

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Most people show symptoms five to seven days after exposure, so a proportion of those close contacts will fall ill each day, she said.

"The things we do today will prevent that next generation of cases," she said during a COVID-19 briefing.

"We're looking to be in a rough ride for the next few days and those people who have had close contact with somebody who has been ill — we need to stay away from others, we need to stay safe."

British Columbia recorded 832 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 100,880 since the pandemic began.

There are 296 people in hospital and five more people have died, pushing the death toll to 1,463.

Sweeping new restrictions introduced this week amid surging cases include bans on indoor dining, fitness classes and faith gatherings.

The province continues to move through its age-based vaccine distribution list, however, it has paused a program offering shots to front-line workers while awaiting further information about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

"We're going to need to regroup and we will come back early next week as soon as we have more information to determine how we will move forward with that program," Henry said.

As of Thursday, people 72 and older, Indigenous people 18 and over, and individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable and have a letter identifying them as such, can book their appointments.

Pharmacies on the Lower Mainland overwhelmed with booking requests this week are receiving more doses of the AstraZeneca to administer to people between the ages of 55 and 65. New pharmacies have also been added to the distribution list.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province received 188,800 new doses Thursday, with more to come next week.

New supply is being distributed to an additional 375 community pharmacy locations in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, bringing the total number of pharmacies offering vaccine appointments to 488, the BC Pharmacy Association says in a release.

The government announced this week that AstraZeneca would not be offered to those under 55 amid concerns about rare blood clots among younger people and expiring supply.

Labour Minister Harry Bains also announced new legal protections Thursday for workers to take time off to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The changes allow part-time and full-time workers to take as much time as needed to travel and receive the vaccine or to take a dependent family member to get their shot, though no specific time has been set out.

Major unions welcomed the change while urging the government to go further and ensure that employees don't lose pay for the work they miss while getting their vaccine.

"While job-protected leave is crucial, many workers can’t afford to take that time off if it means losing wages," Sussanne Skidmore, the BC Federation of Labour's secretary-treasurer, said in a statement.

There are 90 new confirmed cases that are variants of concern for a total of 2,643. Of the total cases, 192 are active.

One of the most contagious variants, B.1.1.7, has a competitive advantage and is replacing the original virus as the dominant strain, Henry said.

"There is an inevitable replacement of variants," she said.

However, a large cluster involving the P1 variant first identified in Brazil has been contained in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, she said. A small number of cases had spread beyond Whistler but she said they are being watched closely.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2021.

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