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.


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

Just Posted

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using piece made at Kennametal’s Langford site

The Greater Victoria plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A provincially appointed consultant has recommended a change to the funding formula for the VicPD that will save Esquimalt a significant amount of money. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt to save a bundle on policing costs under new formula

Provincial consultant studied funding model, resource deployment for VicPD

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

A Victoria resident was scammed out of $1,700 after a fraudster impersonated a police officer and convinced the victim to pay a non-existent fine in Bitcoin. (Unsplash)
Fraudster impersonates Victoria police officer, steals $1,700 in Bitcoin

Phone call showed up as VicPD’s non-emergency line

The Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tsartlip First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA revealed COVID-19 outbreak

Chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA Adam Olsen apologizes

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Most Read