COVID-19 update: B.C. recorded 4,040 cases, 23 deaths over 4 days

British Columbia recorded 4,040 new cases of COVID-19 and suffered 23 related deaths over the last four days, health officials announced Monday.

The latest numbers mean the province has identified an average of 960 cases per day over the last week, setting a new record. B.C.'s rolling weekly average has doubled since March 2 amid growing concerns about the spread of more transmissible variants of concern.

Monday's update was delivered in the form of a written statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, who urged the public to follow their guidelines and protect each other to the best of their abilities.

"We know this virus is constantly changing and some of the new variants can spread more easily, but the same measures we know can still stop the spread and we have safe and effective vaccines on our side now," they said.

"Now is not the time to bend the rules - it's time for us to work together again to bend the curve. It's not easy, but it's the right thing to do for our loved ones, for our local businesses and for the communities we live in."

The province recorded 1,074 cases from Thursday to Friday, followed by a record high of 1,077 cases from Friday to Saturday, 999 cases from Saturday to Sunday, and 890 cases from Sunday to Monday.

The government previously reported that 1,018 cases were identified from Thursday to Friday and 1,072 were identified from Friday to Saturday, but Henry and Dix said those numbers were preliminary.

Health officials also revealed Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units has reached a new record of 96. Another 222 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in less serious condition.

Meanwhile, B.C.'s active caseload has increased to 8,490 – the highest it's been since Christmas Day – which includes 588 cases involving variants of concern.

Since Thursday, another 916 variant cases have been confirmed across B.C., bringing the provincial total to 3,559. That includes 2,771 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant associated with the U.K., 737 cases of the P.1 variant associated with Brazil, and 51 cases of the B.1.351 variant associated with South Africa.

Health officials have pointed to emerging evidence that on top of being easier to spread, B.1.1.7 and P.1 can cause more severe illness, including in younger people.

Reports have suggested the P.1 variant is involved in the outbreak within the Vancouver Canucks that has forced 17 of the team's 22 players to be sidelined under the NHL's pandemic protocols, though officials have not commented on the test results.

Health officials said the majority of B.C.'s B.1.1.7 cases are located in the Fraser Health region, while the majority of P.1 cases are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

As case numbers remain alarmingly high, the province has been ramping up its vaccination efforts. A total of 105,941 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered across the province since Thursday, for an average of about 26,485 per day.

That total includes 806,118 first doses – enough to protect nearly 16 per cent of the province's population – and 87,472 second doses.

The province is launching its new vaccine appointment registration system at 8 a.m. Tuesday, when anyone 71 or older and Indigenous residents 18 and older can book their shot. People considered "clinically extremely vulnerable," who should receive a letter in the mail, can also schedule a vaccination.

The new system includes a website and new call-in centre. People can also book through a Service BC location.

Last week, Henry and Dix announced several new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the province, including a temporary ban on indoor dining at restaurants that's expected to remain in place through April 19. They asked everyone to follow the rules that have been laid out, including an ongoing ban on indoor gatherings at private homes, and to stay away from others if sick.

"If anyone in your family or household is feeling unwell, get tested and stay home from school or work. This is especially important for anyone who has been travelling in these past weeks, as transmission has increased," they said.

In recent days, two Vancouver restaurants have faced backlash after openly defying the latest health orders and allowing patrons inside. On Monday, the city announced it had suspended the business licences for both Gusto in Olympic Village and Corduroy Lounge in Kitsilano.

With files from The Canadian Press