As British Columbia has identified its first case of the new and rapidly-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced further restrictions for the Northern Health region.
A person in the Fraser Health region who recently travelled to and from Nigeria has tested positive for the new strain, and is now isolating prompting Canada to add Nigeria to a list of temporary travel bans.
Although Henry noted we are not seeing widespread transmission of this variant, she urged continued dedication to collective public health efforts, especially heading into the holiday season, announcing further amendments to regional health orders including those in the north.
“In addition to the Northern Health restrictions, the Chief Medical Health Officer in the north has reviewed the restrictions there and we have been in a transition period to try and ensure we are having restrictions that are commensurate with the risk in those areas as well as the strain on the healthcare system,” said Henry in an afternoon press conference.
She explained Northern Health will be revising its orders with a new expiry date of January 31, 2022.
The order will cover all of the Northern Health region and include:
- In-person worship services are still not allowed.
- Bars and night clubs remain closed.
- Restaurants must continue to end their liquor service at 10 p.m.
- Outdoor events with more than 25 people will have a 50 per cent capacity with use of the vaccine card, and indoor seated events with more than 10 people will have a 50 per cent capacity, including funerals, weddings, sporting events and performance events.
These changed will come into effect starting tomorrow (Dec. 1)
“This is a lot for us to think about today,” said Henry. “I think we are reminded that we are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic and we are in a most difficult and challenging time and people in BC have been tested repeatedly not only by the pandemic but also by nature.”
Henry noted that geographic barriers have slowed down the rollout of the vaccination program for children ages five to 11 in some parts of the province.
“There have been extreme measures to try and overcome some of the geographic barriers that we have had because of floods, because of roads being disrupted, because of supply chains being disrupted, and it has been a herculean effort literally,” said Henry.
“To all those children who got their vaccines today, yesterday and will be getting them in the weeks ahead I just want to say you are all vaccine heroes. Parents, now is the time to learn more about the pediatric vaccines and to get your children registered.”
Vaccine clinics for children in Northern Health
Health Minister Adrian Dix spoke about how this has specifically affected Northern Health and said vaccines arriving late from the federal central depot affected early appointments.
“Vaccines have to be unpacked, divided up, and repacked and placed on trucks for distribution far and wide to communities across the health authorities. This takes significant time and has to align with very particular cold chain requirements,” explained Dix.
“It takes vaccine six to eight hours to thaw before its ready to be used in clinics and the delay in arrival makes it a challenge especially with some of the significant weather we are seeing around the province and for that reason, Northern Health has a practice of delaying one to two days in the timing of scheduling clinics in order to risk manage having to reschedule a large number of residents when the vaccine doesn’t arrive on time.”
He said the decision was made to delay the start of the Northern Health Authority vaccine campaign to ensure the availability of vaccines at every clinic.
"It's the reality of and the unique geography and spacing of communities in our region," said Eryn Collins, Northern Health spokesperson, adding that the authority has only just received its first allotment of the pediatric vaccine from the federal supply.
"We can't finalize those clinic plans until we know that the vaccine supply has arrived and It's on hand and there's not going to be any issues with that. We also need to ensure that we have the requisite trained staff to administer the pediatric vaccine, because it's not the same as administering the vaccine that we've had to date."
Collins noted Northern Health does have in clinics and appointment capacity in most communities across the region and will be adding more dates and clinics in the coming weeks.
"Additional dates will be added so we can immunize as many of the younger children as possible and continue to offer those first and second and booster doses to everyone who is eligible."
In Prince George, for example, there are two pediatric clinics for booked appointments specifically for kids aged five to 11 at the House of Ancestors (Dec. 6, 7, 13,14) and the Northern Interior Health Unit (Dec. 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31).
"So when the parents are either calling or going online to make those appointments, those are the dates and locations that will be up for grabs."
Collins noted that all of the planned and scheduled clinics vaccine supply in hand and some communities in Northern Health are in the middle of planning concentrated multi-day clinics that will include the five to 11-year-old population but also have some capacity for those twelve and older as well.
"Our website is definitely the best spot to find more information about opportunities for immunization, but then the province and the BCCDC are really great resources for other questions that parents may have and are another resource to support them in their decision to get their kids vaccinated."
There are 25,000 kids between the ages of five and 11 in the Northern Health region and after six months of eligibility for the 12 to 17 population in Northern Health, 68 per cent of that population has been immunized.
However, COVID-19 cases in Northern Health are finally seeing declining numbers.
“It should be said that test positivity in the north is coming down which is a good sign," said Dix, during today's press conference. "It is still dramatically higher than the provincial average but it has come down from a rolling average of about 20 per cent in October and November to about 12 per cent as of today.”
Dix noted that the test positivity across the province has gone down to about 3 per cent.
Northern Health also reported 56 new cases of COVID-19 today (Nov. 30) with 337 active cases whereas B.C. in total reported 358 new cases and 2,889 active cases.
Of the active cases, 300 individuals are in hospital and 104 are in intensive care. The remaining people are recovering at home in self-isolation. There have also been no new deaths in the past 24 hours.
Dix noted that pharmacies are set to play are larger role in the province’s vaccination program.
“People are asking ‘How you are going to do all of this?’. We have a significant amount of children, there are 349,000 children between five and 11 in BC, ‘How are you going to do that and the booster doses and the continuing first and second doses?’ and part of that is the work we are doing with the BC Pharmacy Association.”
He said there are about 200 pharmacies able to offer appointments and covid-19 vaccinations through BC and by the end of next week there will be another 300 added and by early January 2022 there will be up to 1,000 pharmacies involved.
“Increasingly pharmacies are going to take on the burden and responsibility of the booster does campaign,” noted Dix.
- with files from Castanet