COVID-19: Four confirmed cases of U.K. variant in British Columbia, as well as one case of South African variant

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      More COVID-19 mutations have shown up in British Columbia.

      In a briefing with reporters today, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry disclosed that there have been four confirmed cases of the highly contagious U.K. variant.

      The most recent was a traveller who returned to the Vancouver Coastal Health region. The other three were linked to another traveller who is now on Vancouver Island.

      "There are no other contacts," Henry said. "We don't believe these have spread at all from these four cases."

      There's also been one confirmed case in the last day of the South African variant in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      This person has not travelled and there is no known connection with anyone who has travelled.

      "As you know, there are a number of COVID-19 variants that have arisen around the world that have caused increased concern and we are paying close attention," Henry said. "We have been screening—both doing random samples of some of the isolates that have arisen and screening as well on people who have travelled."

      Between now and the end of March, Henry said that the priority is to vaccinate those most at risk from COVID-19 and people who are supporting the health-care system.

      She added that next week, there will be more information about how vaccines will be rolled out to the broader population after new vaccines arrive in April.

      "Please be patient," she said. "We have a lot of considerations that need to go into this. We're still working on the issues of how much vaccine we expect to be getting when."

      Hospitalizations rise slightly; ICU cases decline

      Meanwhile, the number of positive test results for COVID-19 in B.C. has almost crossed the 60,000 threshold.

      That's because there were 536 new cases in the past day. It means the total has reached 59,608, which includes 4,624 active cases.

      Nearly half of the new cases—253—were in the Fraser Health region.

      That contrasted with 102 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 115 in Interior Health, 45 in Northern Health, and 21 in Island Health.

      Seven new deaths boosted the number of fatalities to 1,038. 

      There are 362 people in hospital with the disease, up from 360 on January 13.

      There are 74 people in intensive or critical care, a decline of two from the previous day.

      “We have had two new health-care facility outbreaks at Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre and Maple Ridge Senior Village," Henry said. "The outbreaks at Langley Memorial Hospital long term care—Cedar Hill, Ts’i’ts’uwatul’ Lelum and Veterans Memorial Lodge are over."

      There are 52 outbreaks in long-term care and assisted-living facilities and 12 outbreaks in acute-care hospitals.