Critics say more information could increase buy-in to COVID restrictions

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Health Minister Adrian Dix faces calls to release more information on where COVID-19 variants are spreading, who is becoming infected and what sectors of the economy are hardest hit after the number of cases of the highly contagious P1 variant nearly doubled over the Easter weekend.

Dix did not commit to releasing the figures, but said Monday he expects the more-transmissible variants to eventually replace earlier strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“What we know is, the most transmissive variants of COVID-19 are ultimately going to take over,” Dix said. “We’ve seen that in other jurisdictions and we expect to see that here.”

B.C. had 4,040 new cases over the four days of the Easter long weekend. Of the 8,490 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., 318 people are in hospital, 96 of them in intensive care. Sixty of the hospitalizations are connected to the variants, Dix said.

Cases of the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil, have almost doubled with 737 cases compared to 379 cases reported as of Thursday. Of those cases, 215 remain active and the majority of infections are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.


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A total of 916 variant cases have been detected since April 1. This brings the total of variant cases in B.C. to 3,559, 588 of which remain active. The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K. makes up the bulk of cases at 2,771 cases, most of which are located in the Fraser Health region.

The P1 variant also caused the outbreak that led to the closure of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort but neither the provincial health office nor Vancouver Coastal Health has said how many variant cases are active in the resort community.

The P1 variant is believed to be as much as 2.5 times more transmissible than earlier strains of the coronavirus. Experts in Brazil have warned that young people are not only more likely to get infected, but also more likely to die.

Jens von Bergmann, a Vancouver-based data scientist, said he’s concerned that B.C. is undercounting the variant numbers because the B.C. Centre for Disease Control only releases data on variants confirmed by genome sequencing. Variants of concern are confirmed using two types of tests. First there’s a PCR screening test for variants — which can be prone to false positives — followed by genome sequencing. Other provinces release variant numbers based on PCR screening tests.

However Dix said B.C. does more whole genome sequencing, which he said is more accurate, than any other Canadian province which he said could explain the high variant numbers.

B.C’s Liberal health critic, Renee Merrifield, said with the rapid rise of P1 variant, B.C.should provide more data on where variants of concern are spreading and which demographic is most affected.


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The provincial health officer has said variants of concern are leading to more hospitalizations of people between the ages of 20 and 39 but the province has not said how many young people are in hospital or in intensive care.

“We need to know where this (transmission of the variant) is happening, we need to know why this is happening,” Merrifield said. “It helps us govern our behaviours. People are tired. They’ve got COVID fatigue and they’re not taking it as seriously as what it needs to be.”

Ontario, for example, provides COVID-19 data broken down by city or sometimes neighbourhood.

Von Bergmann, founder of data analysis company MountainMath, said “unfortunately, when it comes to data reporting, B.C. is doing almost universally poorly.”

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre, said the province should provide a breakdown of the proportion of COVID-19 cases linked to non-essential travel. Despite calls to stay home to contain the virus, many British Columbians, including Metro Vancouver residents, flocked to tourist hot spots such as Tofino and Ucluelet over the weekend.

“If (the province) is able to tell people that a certain proportion of these cases relate to non-essential travel and just by eliminating that activity, we’re going to reduce the number of transmission that are occurring by whatever percentage, I think that will help people understand why they can’t do this,” Conway said.


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This information, he said, is already likely gathered by contract tracers whose jobs it is to investigate where a person infected with COVID-19 has been and who they’ve been in contact with.

“And then people who choose to (travel), we could potentially add that to the list of behaviours that are subject to enforcement,” Conway said.

The province has consistently recommended against non-essential travel but has not put in place fines for people who flout those guidelines.

“I think in a province our size it’s difficult to ban travel,” Dix said Monday. Countries such as France, which has stiff fines for anyone who travels beyond a 10-kilometre radius from home, have had significantly higher COVID case numbers than B.C., he said.

“I can’t be more clear,” Dix said. “If you don’t need to travel, don’t travel. In this month of April that’s especially important.”

Merrifield also questioned why the provincial health office isn’t implementing stricter lockdown style restrictions for COVID hot spots such as Metro Vancouver.

She said she’s heard from many business owners in parts of B.C. where COVID cases have remained relatively stable who don’t understand why they have to shut down indoor dining, one of the public health orders that came into effect last week.

Both Merrifield and Conway said the province should release industry-specific COVID figures, so people can understand the rate at which the virus is spreading in restaurants and other indoor spaces. Merrifield said this data could result in more buy-in from the public and business owners, some of whom have openly defied the new rules.

“I don’t see the same amount of acceptance of the latest regulations, in large part because people don’t understand (the reasons behind them),” Merrifield said.



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