As BC health officials confirm the first cases of Omicron transmitted within the community instead of via travel, they are warning the public the variant could cause the virus to spread rapidly.
The province has 44 confirmed Omicron cases up to Dec. 12. This includes 24 in Fraser Health, 11 in Coastal Health, five on Vancouver Island, three in the Interior, and one in Northern Health.
A case has been detected in a five-year-old and, currently, no one is in hospital. A vast majority of the cases — 37 — are vaccinated people.
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“Although vaccinations are not 100-per-cent effective in preventing transmission, we do see they are incredibly effective in preventive hospitalizations,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday. “This is to give us a sense of what may happen.
“What the challenge is right now is (that) so much is unknown. Omicron can break through in people who have had COVID. What is not known is how much immune evasion there is for those who are vaccinated.”
Omicron is seen as 1.5 to three times more transmissible than the Delta variant. Only 20 of the Omicron cases are linked to travel, including arrivals from countries such as Nigeria, South Africa/Zimbabwe, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, and the United States.
According to the latest modeling data, BC’s worst-case scenario involving Omicron would be 2,000 new cases per day by Dec. 29. The best-case scenario would be around 1,000 new cases per day by the middle of January.
BC’s running seven-day average of daily new cases is 373 as of Dec. 13.
The province provided the various scenarios on Tuesday “for illustrative purposes,” noting they are likely to change quickly as more information is collected.
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In the worst-case scenario, hospitalizations could reach a provincial high of 75 people a day admitted due to COVID by mid-January. In the best-case scenario, hospitalizations would remain at around 25 new admissions per day.
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Scenarios do not account for vaccine boosters, which will affect the virus’ severity and transmission.
The province also announced Tuesday booster shots will soon be offered at pharmacies. About 500 pharmacies have signed up so far, although boosters will not be administered sooner than six months after a person’s second dose.
Overall, unvaccinated individuals accounted for 68 per cent of hospitalizations and 78 per cent of critical care admissions in the past month, the province said.
“The majority of deaths continue to be in those (who) are not immunized, but the impact of breakthrough cases are felt the most in those who are older,” Henry said.
“We focused our booster program on older people because that is where we saw breakthrough and people going to hospital. It is still rare for those under 70 to go to hospital after vaccination.”
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BC recorded more than 1,100 new cases of COVID over the weekend.
Officials reported Monday that 185 people were in hospital, with 72 of them in intensive or acute care.
Five more people died, pushing the total to 2,386 since the start of the pandemic.
There are 2,949 active cases of COVID-19 throughout the province.
The Fraser Health region continues to have the highest active caseload at 850. One hundred and five new cases were reported there in the last 24 hours alone, for a total of 342 new cases over three days.
Another 200 new cases are in the Interior Health region for a total of 529 there, and 202 new cases were reported in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, for a total of 565.
Vancouver Island saw 307 new cases for a total of 764, while Northern Health detected 78 new cases for a total of 240.
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The University of Victoria has canceled all in-person exams for the remainder of the month due to a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus that include the Omicron variant.
Four cases of the variant were confirmed on Monday in a joint release from the university and Island Health, among a cluster of 124 cases associated with people who attended off-campus events.
More cases of the variant are expected on campus, officials said.
Henry said Tuesday the majority of the new cases on campus, which are mostly the Delta variant at this time, were connected to a rugby tournament off campus.
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