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B.C. COVID cases 'rising significantly' in those age 70+ as Omicron variant BA.5 takes hold

The B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group confirms a new wave and variant of Omicron is sweeping the province, with hospitalization expected to rise through July.
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Syringes and a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are displayed at a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in a file photo. Rick West/Daily Herald via AP, File

The number of cases of COVID-19 is rising significantly in people aged 70 and over, according to the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group.

The independent group of academics has been reporting regularly on the pandemic since 2020 and in its latest review confirms Health Minister Adrian Dix’s statement last week that B.C. is in the third Omicron wave of the pandemic — driven by the emergence of the BA.5 subvariant.

The group says the number of infections and severe cases leading to hospitalization in B.C. is expected to rise through July and that it is difficult to determine what will happen in August.

Particularly concerning is that the BA.5 variant is more transmissible than earlier versions and appears to be able to avoid antibodies that prevent infection — which is why people are getting reinfected with COVID-19.

“Faster spread may result from a combination of higher inherent transmissibility and immune evasion,” the report says.

The group focuses on case numbers reported in people age over 70 because that is the group most consistently tested. It found cases in that age group are “rising significantly.”

That was also the case during the start of the pandemic in early 2020, but over time, the age group most affected by the disease shifted to those age 20 to 49.

The impact of the BA.5 wave is challenging to predict and depends on the level of vaccinations and antibody response, and how effectively BA.5 can evade detection from antibodies, the report says.

On a positive note, the group pointed to COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and Canadian Blood Services studies that have concluded there are high levels of spike antibodies among Canadians across all age groups, which means Canada is developing herd immunity to the disease.

BA.5 now accounts for more than 80 per cent of all new cases in B.C.

During the first two years of the pandemic. B.C.’s provincial health officer held sometimes daily press conferences and case counts, death tolls, hospitalization data and active case counts were reported frequently.

However, the government has decided to scale that way back. Dr. Bonnie Henry has not made a statement for several months and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control now reports some numbers once a week, but they are not current.

The Ministry of Health also no longer provides PCR tests for anyone presenting with symptoms of COVID-19 — generally unless they are seniors — and does not gather data from COVID-19 rapid tests.

At present, British Columbians know only that there were 24 deaths in the week ended July 2 and that as of July 7, there were 369 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 36 people in intensive care with COVID-19.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 peaked during the first wave of Omicron on Jan. 31 at 1,038.