COVID-19 update: B.C. adds 358 cases as some regional restrictions extended

The B.C. government announced 358 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, shortly after health officials confirmed some regional restrictions would be continuing through the holiday season.

The update from the Ministry of Health caused the province's seven-day average for infections, which has been trending downward for weeks, to increase slightly to 345 per day.

The province's active caseload also inched up to 2,889, which includes 300 infectious patients in hospital, 104 of whom are in critical care.

There have been no coronavirus-related deaths over the last 24 hours, leaving B.C.'s death toll at 2,333.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed that restrictions in the Northern Health region are being expanded across the entire health authority, and extended until Jan. 31.

Those restrictions prohibit personal gatherings among unvaccinated people, require bars and nightclubs to be closed and don't allow in-person worship services.

Henry said people across the province should be thinking about vaccination status when planning holiday gatherings, particularly if they have family members who are elderly, immunocompromised or otherwise susceptible to severe COVID-19 infection.

"It is important for people, especially at this time of the year, to continue to take these precautions to protect those who are most at risk," she said. "Vaccination is our best protection for those who are most vulnerable."

About 85 per cent of eligible B.C. residents age five and up have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 81.7 per cent have received two. Tens of thousands of vulnerable residents have also received a booster dose so far.

The push for vaccination has become more pressing in recent days as Canada has confirmed its first cases of the concerning Omicron COVID-19 variant. B.C. announced its first case on Tuesday, involving a Fraser Health resident who recently returned from Nigeria.

So far, 204 people across the province have been identified as having recently travelled to Omicron-affected countries. Each one has been contacted over recent days, sent for PCR testing and told to isolate.

The variant has prompted new travel restrictions in many countries, including Canada, which has banned entry to foreign national who have recently travelled to Nigeria, Malawi, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

While it could take weeks to determine whether the variant is more transmissible, causes more severe illness, or is more resistant to vaccines, experts have said it has an alarmingly high number of mutations.

It has already been linked to a rapid rise in cases in South Africa, where vaccination rates are low compared to B.C. and Canada.

"This new variant of concern reminds us that we are in a global storm, and that it is not equal everywhere around the world," Henry said Tuesday, adding that "equal access to vaccination is something that's going to be important for us to get through this."