COVID-19: Omicron wave likely peaked in early January: officials


The highest number of people admitted to and in the intensive care unit remains among those who are unvaccinated at all ages

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BC is closer to a future where COVID-19 is an endemic disease, in line with the common cold or flu, with numbers showing that the latest wave of the Omicron variant has likely peaked, officials said Friday.

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Information released in a briefing indicates that new cases of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant peaked at the end of the first week of January. Hospital admissions are expected to peak in the next week or two, and by mid-February, hospital admissions from this latest wave will have fallen sharply to a handful a day, after modeling forecasts from the province.

This trend will follow a similar pattern in other jurisdictions affected by Omicron, including the United Kingdom and South Africa and cities such as London and Washington DC .

“I think this is a real transition in terms of getting out of a pandemic and learning to live with this virus.… If we reach Easter, I think we’ll be in a completely different place,” said BC’s provincial health officer.

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But the virus continues to mutate, surprising experts in many ways and finding ways to stay afloat, warned Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Source: BC Government. Until there is global protection against the virus – many poorer countries are far behind in vaccinating their populations – there is a risk that another variant will emerge, she said.

And there are still unknowns about how the virus will circulate, whether it will be like other coronaviruses and eventually become like the common cold for most people, Henry added.

But health officials noted that the combination of many more people infected with Omicron and continuing to increase vaccination rates in BC, as well as third booster shots, is close to providing a high level of protection against serious illness. As of Friday, 90 percent of all eligible adults in BC have received two vaccinations, while 32.6 percent have received a third shot.

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Also on Friday, BC reported 2,275 new cases of COVID-19. Officials have said the number of infections could be up to four times higher than the official figures because the test capacity has reached its limit.

A total of 646 people were admitted on Friday, of which 95 were in intensive care. Officials said 70 percent of those in intensive care were unvaccinated. There were six more deaths.

Restrictions introduced before Christmas to curb the spread of Omicron are up for review on Tuesday, January 18, but Henry would not say whether they will be lifted or reduced, or what she should see to do so.

“I have more to say next week,” she said.

The restriction includes allowing only 10 guests in a household, closing gyms and fitness centers, reducing the capacity of venues for concerts and sports to 50 percent, closing nightclubs and bars and introducing stricter rules on restaurants.

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The Omicron variant has almost overtaken the previous Delta variant. In BC, Omicron now accounts for about 90 percent of cases.

That takeover took only a month, a much faster takeover than for previous variants. The spread has so far been greatest in BC’s most populous areas – Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island – where numbers suggest Omicron has peaked. The interior and the northern BC. is further back, where Omicron infections are still rising in the interior.

On the positive front, early statistics compiled by the province show that Omicron produces less serious disease than Delta, which spreads less easily than Omicron. Hospital stays are half as long for those with Omicron, and patients are much less likely to end up in critical care or die.

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The finding also matches experiences in other jurisdictions including in Ontario , The United Kingdom and South Africa.

Source: BC Government.
Source: BC Government.

However, information gathered by the province suggests that there are risks from Omicron for those aged 70 and over, even though they are fully vaccinated. That’s why, health officials said, it’s important for people in that age group to get a third booster jab. There are still 50,000 people who have not received a booster in that age group, said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

There has also been a recent increase in hospitalizations for children – nine children aged four and under in the past week – although no one was in the intensive care unit. That is why it is important to get children vaccinated and that those around them are vaccinated, officials said. This virus behaves like an upper respiratory disease among children and tends to trigger asthma and other respiratory problems, Henry said.

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Information released on Friday showed that there have been twice as many sick healthcare professionals as usual at this time of year, which has exacerbated the challenges of the recent rising hospital admissions.

That is why the province took the difficult step of suspending non-emergency operations before Christmas, Dix said.

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