North sees 46 new COVID cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 46 new cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Health region on Thursday.

The cases were part of the 564 new cases reported across the province on Thursday. The number of active cases in B.C. continued to creep up, rising from 4,654 on Wednesday to 4,743. In the north, the number of active cased rose by one, to 269, according to data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

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Throughout the province, 248 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 46 in critical care. Twenty-two people in the Northern Health region were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 13 in critical care.

Four more COVID-related deaths were reported on Thursday, increasing British Columbia's death toll from the pandemic to 1,376. The death toll in the Northern Health region remained at 109.

"Our condolences go out to our families, our caregivers and our communities," Henry said.

The province's efforts to track down COVID-19 "variants of concern" had found 46 more cases of the U.K. and South African variants of the disease in B.C., bringing the total number to 246 to date - of which 16 cases were still active, Henry said.

"The percent of variants of concern is hovering around one per cent, generally," she said. "We are concerned about transmissibility."

Two deaths in B.C have been linked to variants of concern, and roughly a quarter of the cases couldn't be linked to known exposures, she said.

On a more positive note, a total of 298,851 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C. (9,205 in the north), of which 86,746 were second doses, Henry said. Henry offered an apology to those people who were scheduled to get a second dose this week, but had it rescheduled to a later date.

On Monday, Henry announced that B.C. would postpone second doses for four months, in order to give more people their first dose in the short term. That decision will mean tens of thousands of people in the province will get their first dose sooner, she said.

"That dose you didn't get on Wednesday... or today is being used for a community member," she said. "We are learning as we go with this – it's rapid-response research. This decision making, we don't take it lightly."

B.C. is expecting to get its first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine next week, Henry said. The fridge-stable vaccine will be used to vaccinate first responders and essential workers earlier than they would be eligible, based on age, she said. A plan for how to role that out is being developed, and will be unveiled by mid-March.

In the meantime, the first doses of the vaccine will be used to combat current outbreaks in the province, she said.

"We are in a new place now. We're getting a regular supply of vaccines, and more vaccines are on the way," Henry said. "We're going to be in our post-pandemic world by this summer."

Henry back-peddled slightly on that optimism, adding "I think it was Eisenhower who said, 'no plan survives first contact with the enemy.'"

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