Experts believe B.C.'s COVID-19 variant trend is about one month behind Ontario's

A number of experts are speaking out, calling for tougher restrictions in B.C. because of COVID-19 variants, and disputing Dr. Bonnie Henry's assessment of where we are now. Emad Agahi reports.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Tuesday she is not considering tougher restrictions, at least not yet, to slow the spread of COVID-19 variants in the province.

The number of active variant cases dropped to 266 Wednesday from 588 on Tuesday, but the concern remains high around the province.

Henry said the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first discovered in the U.K., is dominant in B.C., but that in the last few weeks there has been an increase in the P.1 variant, which was first discovered in Brazil.

“Cases have surged and people are having a much higher number of contacts, and that has meant increased numbers of people in hospital,” Henry said.

“We know much of this transmission is happening in younger people, so that means numbers of younger people in hospital has increased, and numbers of younger people needing ICU care has increased, and that is concerning.”

UBC professor and mathematical biologist Dr. Sarah Otto told Global News Wednesday that much more is known about the B.1.1.7 strain than the P.1 strain. However, Otto said they do have similar genetic properties.

“It spreads more rapidly, about twice as rapidly, and it is more virulent, meaning you’re more likely to land in hospital or ICU,” she said. “So you put that together and with all of the variants you are about four times more likely to get it and more likely to land in hospital.”

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Otto said she is concerned the recent closures and restrictions will not be enough to bend the curve of the virus back down and she would not be surprised if there were more restrictions in areas targeting where transmission is still taking place.

“The key message is, as soon as you can get a vaccine, as soon as you can get it into your arm — the more people we have vaccinated — that bends the curve down too,” Otto added.

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On Thursday, the Ontario government declared the province’s third state of emergency amid the COVID-19 pandemic and issued a provincewide stay-at-home order effective on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.

The order will remain in effect for four weeks and means residents must stay home except for essential reasons, including going grocery shopping, picking up prescription medication, accessing health care, going to work when it cannot be done remotely, and exercising close to home.

B.C. health officials believe the province is about one month behind Ontario’s variant trend but Henry said Tuesday she believes the measures now in place are tough enough, as long as everyone follows the rules.

“The current and upcoming increases in vaccine supply, along with this extended dose interval is going to support the rapid expansion – it already has – of vaccinations across Canada,” she said. “We are well-positioned to have enough vaccines for everybody to have both doses by September.”

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Otto said it is hard to say if these current restrictions — closing indoor dining and indoor adult fitness classes — will be enough and that further stricter measures will not be needed.

She said data is showing the current vaccines have strong protection against the B.1.1.7 variant at least.

“P.1 we have almost no data about,” she added, but at least the two variant strains have similar properties so they are hoping the data will show the same result for the P.1 strain.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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