FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Sofia, Bulgarian. South Africa on Sunday Feb. 7, 2021, has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova, FILE)

FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Sofia, Bulgarian. South Africa on Sunday Feb. 7, 2021, has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova, FILE)

Top doctor ‘dreading’ possibility that COVID variants will take off in B.C.

If more transmissible variants become widespread, restrictions will need to cut down contacts

Although B.C. has only had 40 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 variants first discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is “dreading” if those variants begin to spread like wildfire.

“It does change the game in some ways if starts to take off and become dominant in the community,” Henry said. “I think all of us are dreading that.”

She said that the variants’ appearances in B.C. has taken the public health sector back to January and February of last year, where every single cases was being tracked and managed closely to attempt to stop the virus from gaining a foothold in the province. Henry noted that in some parts of Ontario the variants are “spreading quite widely and it’s having impacts that we saw are quite devastating..” That province announced plans to begin loosening stay-at-home orders on Wednesday.

“We’re doing all we can to stop it from taking off again,” she said. “We need to get a handle on it… this is one of the main reasons we’re extending the restrictions here in B.C.”

Henry said that if those variants become prevalent in B.C., “we need to put in place measures that would restrict our contacts again.” She said that genome sequencing is ongoing to catch as many variant cases as possible, but that it is slower than simple testing.

“It can lead us to a brand new charge of increased numbers of cases if we don’t keep doing what we’re doing,” Henry said.

There have been a total of 40 cases of the U.K. (B117) and South African (B1351) variants of the novel coronavirus, both of which are considered to be more transmissible. Of those, 25 are have been the U.K. variant, broken down by region: 15 in Fraser Health, five in Vancouver Coastal Health, four in Island Health and one in Interior Health. Of the 15 cases of the South African variant, there have been 13 in Vancouver Coastal Health and two in Fraser Health.

Henry said four cases of the South African cases are “particularly concerning,” because it’s unclear how those individuals got infected with that variant. Only three cases of the 40 total confirmed variant cases are still active.

Overall, the provincial health officer said that most of the variant cases are among younger people who are more likely to travel.

“We aren’t seeing seeing severe illness in the number that we’ve identified so far, nobody has been hospitalized,” she added. “There has been some transmission between close contacts, particularly within households.”

In terms of whether or not the current crop of mRNA vaccines will work on the new variants, Henry said officials are watching studies closely. The AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine, which does not use mRNA technology, has been suspended in South Africa after officials there began to believe it’s not effected for that variant.

Henry said it looks like the mRNA vaccines might have to be adjusted for the South African variant, but likely not for the U.K. one.

READ MORE: Henry says COVID vaccine supply to increase in February; total cases top 70,000


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Get used to visiting Whitewater Ski Resort during the summer. It’s adding off-season programming thanks to a provincial grant. File photo
Province grants Whitewater $1m for summer rec plans

The ski resort will expand its mountain biking, hiking and climbing options

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

School District 8 is considering moving some programs out of Central School to make more room. Photo: Tyler Harper
SD8 considers moving Wildflower classes, REACH program out of Central School

The district says the building is set to operate over capacity in the fall

A emergency response team assisted the RCMP in apprehending a woman in Kaslo who was barricaded in her house on March 1. File photo
RCMP apprehend woman barricaded in Kaslo house

The woman had been writing threatening messages about taking hostages, police say

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries offers cheaper, prepaid fare options

Ferry service preparing for busy terminals when travel restrictions are lifted

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

Most Read