COVID-19 in B.C.: New variant from Nigeria detected, ski awareness campaign launched, and more

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      Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that B.C. is bending the curve downward but needs to maintain that effort.

      That message is of particular importance this weekend with numerous occasions taking place, including the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, and Family Day.

      B.C. Health Minister said that he wanted to express his appreciation for Chinese Canadian, Vietnamese Canadian, and additional communities celebrating Lunar New Year, “who have been, as communities, extraordinarily committed to following provincial health guidelines, who have been leaders in that regard”.   

      Meanwhile, a new variant has been detected in the province, and B.C. is launching a campaign to help reduce transmission at ski locations.

      Variant update

      At today’s briefing, Henry said B.C. now has 46 confirmed cases of “variants of concern”. That includes 29 confirmed cases of the B117 (from the U.K.) and 17 cases of the B1351 (from South Africa) variants.

      Henry also said there is one case confirmed of a “variant under investigation”—the B1525 variant from Nigeria. She said was detected in a young individual in the Interior Health region who had recently travelled from Nigeria.

      It’s the first case to be identified in Canada. In December, Nigerian health officials had begun to identify the variant as different from the strains in the U.K. and South Africa. 

      She said that there isn’t any evidence of transmission, and this person is in isolation.

      She said that they remain unclear if this variant has increased transmissibility or causes more severe illness, and remains under investigation.

      Ski resort campaign

      While large outdoor parties sparked concerns last summer, attention has shifted to ski hills during the winter.

      Henry has previously explained that the primary concern isn’t outdoor activities (such as skiing or snowboarding) but the social gatherings indoors afterward.

      In addition, the outbreak at Big White Mountain and the surge in cases in Whistler have been linked to young adults who share accommodations, and work and socialize together.

      Today, the provincial government announced that it is joining WorkSafeBC, six local governments, and the Canada West Ski Area Association to launch an education program—"Be the Reason We All Have a Season"—to address COVID-19 transmission at ski communities across the province.

      “Those who are mixing households, throwing parties and ignoring the rules are putting jobs, our economy, and our health at risk,” Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport Minister Melanie Mark stated in a news release.

      The campaign will include television and digital ads, additional communication to employees, and education about eliminating social gatherings in shared housing and short-term accommodations, employers assisting with contact tracing, and reinforcing quarantine and self-isolation accommodation information for people working and living in ski communities.

      "We're calling on everyone to be the reason we save our season," Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton stated in a news release. "Whistler doesn't have an economy if we do not overcome COVID-19 transmission within our community.” 

      Since the pandemic began in 2020, Whistler, Sun Peaks, Rossland, Revelstoke, Invermere, and Fernie have had working groups focused on preventing COVID-19 transmission, including ski operators, municipalities, marketing organizations, chambers of commerce, and local health authorities.

      B.C. has 37 ski areas and the B.C. ski industry involves over 21,000 jobs.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. update: February 12

      Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in a joint statement that there 445 new cases (including six epi-linked cases) in the province today. By region, that includes:

      • 218 new cases in Fraser Health;
      • 135 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
      • 44 in Interior Health;
      • 30 in Northern Health;
      • 15 in Island Health;
      • three people from outside of Canada.

      Since yesterday, active cases increased by 30 cases to 4,347 active cases today.

      The number of hospitalized cases slightly decreased by two people to 226 individuals currently in hospital, with 61 of those patients (two fewer people since yesterday) in intensive care units.

      Public health is monitoring 7,035 people due to exposures to identified cases.

      Sadly, there have been 10 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the total fatalities during the pandemic to 1,288 people who have died.

      A cumulative total of 67,008 people have recovered.

      B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 72,750 cases over the course of the pandemic so far.

      Thus far, 162,982 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., and 17,562 of those are second doses.

      Henry said that deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (which were temporarily suspended) will resume next week and at higher levels.

      She said they expect a “significant bump in supply in the coming weeks”, which will allow the province to continue on with its first phase immunizations.

      She added that in a few weeks, they will be able to expand to community groups, including seniors.

      Outbreaks and exposures

      For another consecutive day, there aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks.

      Henry said that there has been a "notable decrease in transmission and outbreaks” in longterm and assisted-living facilities, which she attributes to the effectiveness of vaccinations.

      Meanwhile, Fraser Health declared the outbreak over at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

      Northern Health provided an update today on the outbreak at a medical in-patient unit at the Dawson Creek and District Hospital, stating that as of today, nine patients and three staff members have tested positive while one patient has died.

      Northern Health stated that the outbreak remains limited to the one unit.

      Today, Interior Health provided updates on three community clusters.

      At Williams Lake, Interior Health said 11 more cases have been confirmed since the last update on February 9, bringing the total to 412 cases. With 355 people having recovered, there remain 57 active cases.

      At Big White, one new case has been detected since the last update on February 5, for a total of 236 cases. A total of 226 people have now recovered, leaving 10 active cases.

      Loblaw stated that one staff member who tested positive last worked on February 9 at Shoppers Drug Mart (250–221 Ioco Road) in Port Moody.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control added four domestic flights with COVID-19 exposures:

      • February 3: Air Canada Flight 210, Vancouver to Calgary, affected rows 22 to 28;
      • February 8: WestJet Flight 126, Vancouver to Calgary, affected rows 4 to 10;
      • February 8: WestJet Flight 3106, Terrace to Vancouver, affected rows 3 to 9;
      • February 8: Flair Flight 8821, Toronto to Vancouver, affected rows 14 to 20.
      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.