78 new cases on Island over weekend; 18 cases of COVID-19 variants now in B.C.

B.C.’s top doctor is concerned about an increasing number of cases that involve two highly transmissible COVID-19 variants in the ­province.

Seven new cases of the United Kingdom strain were confirmed over the ­weekend, bringing the total to 14, while the number of cases of the South African strain sits at four.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said all cases of the U.K. variant in the province have been linked to travel, but the source of the South African variant in B.C. remains a mystery.

“This is one of the things that is most concerning for us right now that we’ve seen in other parts of the world and here in Canada,” Henry said. It is factoring into all of the decisions that the province is making with respect to restrictions, she said.

Surveillance for the variants is ramping up, Henry said. About 80 people were being tested Monday after a contact of a confirmed case attended ­Garibaldi Secondary School in the Fraser Health region.

Since Friday, 1,158 people have tested positive for ­COVID-19 in B.C., including 78 on Vancouver Island. Most of the new cases over the weekend were in Fraser Health, with 493. There are 4,134 people with active cases of COVID-19 in B.C.; 289 of them are in hospital including 79 in intensive or ­critical care.

Another 21 people died from COVID-19 in B.C. over the weekend, for a total of 1,210 deaths to date.

There are 252 active cases in Island Health, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Sixteen people are in hospital, including six in intensive care.

Henry said it’s important for people to follow precautions and to stay local to prevent the virus and its variants from spreading widely in the community.

“This also reminds us that gatherings of any size in our home, or elsewhere, are very high risk right now, and should not be happening,” she said.

She noted that Super Bowl Sunday, the Lunar New Year and Family Day are on the horizon and urged people not to hold parties or celebrate with anyone from outside their household.

There are now outbreaks in 24 long-term care and assisted living homes, involving 801 residents and 430 staff, and eight outbreaks in acute care facilities. Health Minister Adrian Dix said that’s about half the number from two weeks ago.

Dix said the province will send 100 Red Cross members — teams of 20 to five priority seniors homes — to provide “non‑clinical” support services and improve quality of life there. The Red Cross members will first be immunized.

“Even though the number of outbreaks has declined, it’s a very challenging time in long-term care,” Dix said. “Mostly, it’s about improving the quality of life of people living in those care homes during a very ­difficult time.”

Vaccines have been offered in all senior care homes and Henry said there’s a very high number vaccinated.

Provinces have been told by the federal government to expect limited vaccines this month. “While fewer people were receiving doses this week, we are continuing with our preparations to have widespread immunizations underway on a bigger scale than we’ve ever done before across the province in a few short weeks,” Henry said.

As of Monday, 138,892 doses of vaccine have been administered in B.C., mostly first doses. The province hopes to ­vaccinate 10 per cent of the eligible ­population by March 31.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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