B.C. health officials say the recently-discovered Omicron variant will become the dominant strain in the province—and it appears to be spreading rapidly in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced in a press briefing on Nov. 30 that the first case of the new coronavirus variant was detected in an individual in the Fraser Health region who travelled from Nigeria.
The new variant, dubbed Omicron, was first detected in South Africa and coincided with a steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in that region in recent weeks, according to the World Health Organization.
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) last published its weekly update on the Variants of Concern (VOC) on Dec. 17. As of Tuesday (Dec. 21), there are 302 known cases of Omicron in B.C.
Of the 302 identified cases, 145 are located in the Island Health Authority, 93 are located in the Vancouver Coastal Health region (VCH), 58 are in the Fraser Health Authority, five are located in the Interior Health region, and one is located in the Northern Health region.
But that figure was dramatically lower only a day before the update.
On Dec. 16, the B.C. government provided an update on the total number of Omicron cases in the province: 135. And that figure was more than triple the Omicron case count in the four previous days. At that point, there were 20 known cases of the variant in the VCH region. That number jumped to nearly 93 cases in the weekly report issued the following day.
With this in mind, the exact number of cases of the latest variant in British Columbia is delayed by as much as seven to 11 days, as that’s how long the centre takes to sequence each specimen. This means the total number of cases in the VCH region may rise dramatically in the coming weeks.
On Dec. 7, there were only five known Omicron patients in B.C. and they were all believed to have contracted the virus while travelling internationally. None of the five had an illness severe enough to need hospital treatment. Two of the five patients were unvaccinated.
From Dec. 3 to 9, fully vaccinated people accounted for 45.1% of all 2,429 new cases in B.C. whereas from Dec. 9 to 15, fully vaccinated accounted for 57.2% of the 3,394 new cases. It is assumed, for now, the increases are a result of Omicron.
Notably, in this time, hospitalizations for fully vaccinated people remain stable: 1.1 for every 100,000 vaccinated people compared to 23.8 per 100,000 unvaccinated people.
With files from Glen Korstrom and Graeme Wood.