COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix say there's no evidence of Omicron in province

Their statement came in the wake of the World Health Organization classifying this genetic mutation as a new variant of concern

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      B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix say they support the federal measures taken in response to a new COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC).

      This statement came after Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that foreign nationals will not be permitted into Canada if they've been in Southern Africa in the 14 days before their planned arrival.

      The federal government's statement specifically mentioned South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia in the wake of a World Health Organization statement about the new variant of concern known as Omicron (B.1.1.529).

      Canadians, permanent residents, and those with status under the Indian Act who return to Canada from these countries in the past 14 days will face enhanced testing, screening, and quarantine measures.

      In their statement, Henry and Dix said that there's no evidence that Omicron has been introduced in B.C.

      "The B.C. Centre for Disease Control's public health lab has sequenced over 90,000 virus isolates in B.C. and will continue to use whole genome sequencing to monitor all variants circulating in B.C., including this new VOC Omicron," they noted.

      “In addition, public health will be working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada Border Services Agency to identify any people recently returned from the areas of concern to arrange testing and to ensure they remain well."

      Henry and Dix said that 91 percent of eligible British Columbians have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

      "So far, all of the Health Canada-approved vaccines are highly effective and provide strong protection against all variants," they stated. "We will monitor the data on this new VOC to ensure that will continue to be the case."

      According to the World Health Organization, Omicron has "a large number of mutations".

      "Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs," the WHO said. "The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa." 

      The first confirmed specimen of the Omicron variant was collected on November 9.

      The World Health Organization applies the term "variant of interest" to a SARS-CoV-2 variant that has "genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect the characteristics of the virus, such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, [and] diagnostic or therapeutic escape".

      In addition, the "variant of interest" term is applied if the variant causes "significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing numbers of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts, to suggest an emerging risk to global public health".

      The more alarming term, "variant of concern", is applied if it already meets the above definition and leads to one of three things:

      • increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or
      • increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or
      • decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics. 
      There's currently an outbreak of COVID-19 inside St. Paul's Hospital.
      Joe Mabel

      Latest B.C. numbers

      On November 26, the B.C. Ministry of Health reported that there were 341 new cases of COVID-19 and 3,035 active cases in the province.

      Of those who've tested positive, 211,577 have recovered.

      There are 291 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 115 in intensive care.

      There were another six deaths, increasing the provincewide total to 2,322. Of the new deaths, three were in Fraser Health, two were in Vancouver Coastal Health, and one was in Northern Health.

      The new/active cases include:

      • 100 new cases in Fraser Health
        • Total active cases: 1,071
      • 65 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health
        • Total active cases: 536
      • 77 new cases in Interior Health
        • Total active cases: 593
      • 31 new cases in Northern Health
        • Total active cases: 381
      • 68 new cases in Island Health
        • Total active cases: 448
      • no new cases of people who reside outside of Canada
        • Total active cases: six

      There are current outbreaks in three acute-care hospitals: Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Ridge Meadows Hospital in Fraser Health and St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.

      According to Providence Health Care, 10 patients in two units tested positive earlier this week at St. Paul's Hospital.

      Three long-term care facilities also have ongoing outbreaks: Tabor Home, Maplewood House, and George Derby Centre in Fraser Health; and Peace Villa in Northern Health. One assisted- or independent-living facility, Laurier Manor in Northern Health, is also dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19. 

      Between November 18 and 24, 59.2 percent of all cases involved people who were not fully vaccinated. And 55.9 percent had no vaccination for COVID-19.

      From November 11 to 24, the unvaccinated accounted for 61.9 percent of hospitalizations in B.C., with those partially vaccinated comprising 6.5 percent.

      After adjusting for age, there were 38.3 unvaccinated people per 100,000 who were hospitalized between November 11 and 24. That compared to 2 vaccinated people per 100,000 who were hospitalized over the same period.