Holiday gatherings behind rising cases in the north, interior, Henry says

The Northern Health and Interior Health regions of B.C. are seeing surging numbers of COVID-19 cases, while case numbers are declining elsewhere in the province, Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Thursday.

There were 45 new cases reported in the Northern Health region on Thursday. According to data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, 486 of the 4,624 active cases of COVID-19 in the province were in the Northern Health region – making up 10.5 per cent of active cases in B.C., despite being home to less than six per cent of the province's population.

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"In the Northern Health and Interior Health, where they hadn't seen as many cases in the past, they are certainly seeing their share now," Dix said. "At least since the Christmas period we have seen an increase in cases."

There were 362 people hospitalized in the province with COVID-19, including 42 in the Northern Health region, the B.C. CDC reported. Of those people 74 were in critical care, including 14 of the 42 in the north.

The Interior Health region, the second-smallest in the province by population, had 115 new cases on Thursday, growing to 948 active cases.

Seven new COVID-related deaths were reported in the province on Thursday – none of which were in the north – bringing the province's death toll from the pandemic to 1,038.

The outbreaks in the north and interior aren't concentrated in one area, but spread out in small clusters, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

"What we're see is more local, when people had come together in small groups," Henry said. "It is absolutely reflective of people getting together over the holidays."

However, she said, those numbers can come back down if people follow the public health guidelines and avoid socializing outside their households.

"We're in a bit of a race right now between how much vaccine we have, and the spread of the virus," Henry said.

A total of 69,746 people in B.C. have now been vaccinated – up by 6,316 from Wednesday.

Henry said the province will reveal plans next week for the second phase of vaccination, beginning in April as the quantity of vaccine available increases.

On Thursday the province detected its fourth case of the more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 in a traveller, and also found its first case of the South African variant, Henry said.

While the U.K. variant was found in a traveller returning to Canada – and there is no indication that the variant has spread in the province, outside the two travellers and two immediate household contacts – the person who contracted the South African variant had not been out of the country or in contact with anyone who had, she said.

"It is concerning that we don't know where it arose," she said.

On Thursday, Henry reported a total of 536 new cases in the province, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 59,608, including 2,696 in the Northern Health region.

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