B.C.’s top doctor says businesses and schools need to take proactive measures now to prepare for major staff shortages as the Omicron variant has surged to account for 80 per cent of all new cases.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned Tuesday that up to one-third of staff could be off sick with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
She said businesses will have to adapt to operate with reduced numbers and continue to use COVID protocols, such as requiring employees to stagger shifts and break times, use Plexiglass barriers and limit the number of customers entering the premises.
Henry says schools must remain open as a delayed start to classes begins next week because they provide the best social, emotional and intellectual development for children.
She says the next few weeks will be challenging as the province weathers a “pandemic storm” and capacity to test those who are sick is limited as 80 per cent of infections in the province are now due to Omicron.
Henry says vaccines are the best protection against infection, and case and contact tracing can no longer help contain the fast-spreading variant.
However, she provided no indication any additional public health orders would be enacted amid the rising case counts.
“Public health orders are there as a last resort when we want to make sure that people are absolutely doing things, and we want to do them in what we call the least restrictive means,” she said.
“We don’t have to force people to close to be able to get people to do the right thing and take those measures that get us through this.”
Coming off the weekend, B.C. reported 9,332 new cases of COVID-19 since last Friday. Of those new cases, 1,117 were located in the Island Health region.
There were also 4,859 cases reported in Fraser Health, 1,797 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,185 cases in Interior Health, and 374 cases in Northern Health.
Last Friday, the health ministry brought in new restrictions including reducing the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 to five days for fully vaccinated people without symptoms.
It is encouraging people to wear a mask around others for an additional five days after leaving self-isolation.
The ministry outlined that people who haven’t been vaccinated are still required to self-isolate for 10 days.
It was also announced that visits to long-term care and assisted living facilities will be limited to essential visitors and the restriction would be re-evaluated on Jan. 18, when other COVID-19 rules are set to expire.
With files from The Canadian Press.