First case of omicron COVID-19 variant detected in BC; Dr. Henry announces changes to provincial health orders

First omicron case in BC

UPDATE 4:50 p.m.

Interior Health says the decision to lift capacity restrictions for live events in the region was taken after local cases dropped.

“We’ve been closely monitoring COVID-19 activity, hospitalizations, and immunization rates in Interior Health and we’ve seen our cases drop,” said Dr. Sue Pollock, Interior Health’s interim chief medical health officer.

“We will be lifting the regional restrictions tonight and people will be able to host gatherings in their home and indoor events will be able to return to full capacity with proof of vaccination.”

Provincial orders remain in effect. Proof of vaccination is required for indoor events with more than 50 people. Indoor events are now allowed at 100% capacity and outdoor events continue to have capacity restrictions of 5,000 people or 50% capacity, whichever is greater. Mask requirements for public indoor settings remain in effect.

ORIGINAL 1:50 p.m.

British Columbia has its first case of the new and rapidly-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Tuesday afternoon that 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. Canada added Nigeria to a list of temporary travel bans Tuesday, along with Egypt and Malawi.

Follow ups with the individual and their contacts are underway.

Henry said British Columbia continues to conduct a full genome sequencing on any positive COVID test from anyone who has travelled internationally, and that is how this first case was detected.

"We know that these concerning mutations can arise, and where vaccination is low in parts of the world it can spread rapidly," Henry said.

"We can be confident that we're not seeing widespread transmission of this variant in BC yet."

Henry urged continued dedication to collective public health efforts, especially heading into the holiday season.

"We cannot stop this virus from transmitting. But what we can try and do is slow it down to help us understand exactly where the virus is now, where this variant of concern is," Henry said, urging "tried-and-true" measures like vaccination, masking, social distancing, washing hands and limiting gathering sizes.

"We must anticipate and plan for the worst even as we hope that this strain will not cause the havoc that we've seen with some others."

Henry amended existing provincial mask orders to include faith communities in light of the increased risk.

Masks will now be required for all participants attending worship services, including choirs. They can be removed for eating or drinking or during ceremonial activities. Capacity will also be limited to 50 per cent unless all participants are fully vaccinated.

In Interior Health, some restrictions have been lifted. As of midnight Monday, events will be allowed to have 100 per cent capacity if enforcing the vaccine card.

In the Northern Health region, in-person worship services are still not allowed. 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.

"This is a lot for us to think about today. I think we are reminded that we're not out of the woods yet with this pandemic," Henry said.

"We will get through this storm, these many storms, together. And we need to do that by continuing to have that compassion and kindness for each other and doing all of the things that we know will keep us safe."

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