B.C.’s top doctor said she’s watching how the more infectious Delta variant is spreading in the U.K. but doesn’t foresee the province needing to move back stages in its restart plan.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the comments Monday (June 14) at a press conference with other officials about entering Step 2 of B.C.’s restart plan on Tuesday. The province has seen just over 500 cases of the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant in total so far, although the whole genome sequencing that determines which variant of concern each case is can be delayed by weeks.
“I don’t expect – with what we know now – we’ll have to go back, but we may need to slow going forward, depending on what happens,” Henry said, noting modelling shows the province is “likely” to see somewhat of an increase in cases as reopening continues and contacts increase.
“This next couple of weeks will be very key for that.”
The province will not move to Step 3 – which would see masks go from required to recommended, lift limits on how many people can dine together at a restaurant, and allow for Canada-wide travel – until at least July 1.
B.C. has yet to release COVID-19 figures from the weekend, but last week’s seven-day rolling average was at 161 cases per day as of Friday, down significantly from a peak of more than 1,000 cases per day in April. The province is scheduled to get 1.62 million doses of the two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, over the next two weeks.
Concern over the Delta variant in B.C. is linked to data from Public Health England, which shows that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is only 33 per cent effective against that variant.
Two doses, however, show only a small decrease in its effectiveness against the Delta compared to other strains. Further data released Monday by the U.K. also showed Pfizer and AstraZeneca are 96 and 92 per cent, respectively, effective against preventing hospitalization with the Delta variant after two doses.
The U.K.’s situation may prove to be a useful guide for B.C., as both places have delayed the second dose, the U.K. to within 12 weeks and B.C. to about eight weeks. B.C. has more than 75 per cent of adults vaccinated with a first dose, but only about 10 per cent with a second dose. In the U.K., 79 per cent of adults have their first dose while 57 per cent have their second dose.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country would be delaying going to Stage 4 of its reopening plan by four weeks, pushing a stage that would see most restrictions lifted back by four weeks. According to U.K. government data, weekly average cases have increased by 46 per cent compared to the week prior, while hospitalizations have gone up 15 per cent and deaths by 12 per cent in the same time period.
However, Henry said that she was confident that the measures that had kept COVID-19 under control in B.C. last summer would work again this year as more and more people got vaccinated.
“We’re watching the data, we’re doing whole genome sequencing on every case, we’re actively managing with people every single case and finding out where transmission happens, so that we can keep a lid on things as we move through this next phase.”