15 new cases of COVID-19 on Island; top doctor says Nigerian variant identified in B.C.

British Columbia’s top doctor says 47 cases of COVID-19 variants have been identified in the province, including one believed to be linked to Nigeria.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said 29 cases are related to a variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 17 are associated with South Africa and the latest one involves a person who travelled to Nigeria and returned to the Interior Health region.

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Lab teams in B.C. are working with their counterparts across Canada and internationally to get a better understanding of whether the Nigerian variant that has been identified elsewhere is also easily transmissible or causes more severe illness, Henry said.

Variants of concern do transmit more quickly and cause more severe illness, but Henry said it’s reassuring that only three cases were recently identified among 3,099 cases that were tested for the variants.

Henry reported 445 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, for a total of 72,750 cases in the province to date. Fifteen of the new cases were in the Island Health region, which now has 244 known active cases. A total of 1,951 cases have been confirmed in the region.

Ten more deaths were reported, bringing the total in B.C. to 1,288 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Henry urged residents to maintain restrictions on gatherings during the Family Day long weekend, which coincides with Lunar New Year celebrations, but said colder weather may reduce travel, meaning “Mother Nature is going to be on our side.”

“We are trending in the right direction, pushing our curve down, but slowly. And we need to ensure our success sticks, which means staying the course with our layers of protection and continuing to follow all of the public health restrictions and guidance.”

Island Health also asked residents to limit social gatherings and avoid unnecessary travel outside their communities.

“We understand the urge to gather with loved ones, especially on Family Day; however, even small gatherings present a significant risk,” a statement from Island Health said. “Contact tracing investigations continue to show that COVID-19 is spreading on Vancouver Island in places and situations where people gather.”

A new COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Ladysmith Secondary, with a possible exposure date of Feb. 5. Exposure refers to a single confirmed case of an illness at a facility.

Island Health conducts contact tracing after each case and lets people know if they might have been exposed.

Henry said first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care and assisted-living facilities have meant a dramatic drop in outbreaks at facilities across the province.

Second doses still must be administered to most residents and staff, she said, but there’s clear evidence that first doses have slowed down transmission of the virus.

An increasing number of vaccine doses are expected to arrive in B.C. next week and onward after a slowdown in deliveries, she said.

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