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

Highest number of people in hospital and those in intensive care continue to be among those unvaccinated at all ages

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

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Information released in a briefing indicates that new cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant peaked at the end of the first week of January. Hospitalizations are expected to peak in the next week or two, and by mid-February hospitalizations in this latest wave will have dropped sharply to a handful per day, according to the province’s modeling forecast.

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

“I think it’s a real transition out of a pandemic, learning to live with this virus. … If we get to Easter, I think we’ll be in a really different place,” said BC’s provincial health officer.

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However, the virus continues to mutate, surprising experts in many ways and finding ways to persist, Dr Bonnie Henry warned.

Source: Government of British Columbia. Until there is global protection against the virus – many poor countries are lagging 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 have noted that the combination of many more people infected with Omicron and the continued increase in vaccination rates in British Columbia, as well as third booster shots, is poised to provide a level high protection against serious diseases. As of Friday, 90% of all eligible adults in British Columbia had received two vaccines, while 32.6% had received a third vaccine.

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Also on Friday, British Columbia reported 2,275 new cases of COVID-19. Officials have said the number of infections could be up to four times higher than official figures as testing capacities have reached their limit.

A total of 646 people were hospitalized on Friday, including 95 in intensive care. Officials said 70% of people in intensive care were unvaccinated. There were six other deaths.

Restrictions put in place before Christmas to slow the spread of Omicron are due to be reviewed on Tuesday, January 18, but Henry did not say whether they would be lifted or reduced or what she would need to see to do so.

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

Restrictions include allowing only 10 guests in a household, closing gyms and fitness centers, reducing the capacity of concert and sports venues to 50%, closing nightclubs and bars and putting introduction of stricter rules in restaurants.

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The Omicron variant practically surpassed the previous Delta variant. In British Columbia, Omicron now accounts for about 90% of cases.

This takeover only took a month, a much faster takeover than previous variants. The spread has been greatest, so far, in the most populated parts of British Columbia – Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island – where numbers suggest Omicron has peaked . Interior and northern British Columbia lag further behind, with Omicron infections continuing to rise in the interior.

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

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The results are also consistent with experiences in other jurisdictions, including Ontario, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Source: Government of British Columbia.
Source: Government of British Columbia.

However, information compiled by the province suggests that Omicron poses risks for people 70 and older, even if they are fully vaccinated. That’s why, health officials said, it’s important that people in this age group get a third booster shot. There are still 50,000 people who have not had a booster in that age group, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

There has also been a recent increase in hospitalizations of children – nine children aged four and under in the past week – although none were in intensive care. That’s why it’s important to get children immunized and those around them immunized, officials said. This virus behaves like an upper respiratory disease in children and tends to trigger asthma and other airway problems, Henry said.

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Information released on Friday showed that there have been double the number of healthcare workers sick as usual during this time of year, compounding the challenges of recent increases in hospitalizations.

That’s why the province made the difficult decision to suspend elective surgeries before Christmas, Dix said.

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twitter.com/gordon_hoekstra


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