No longer a variant: Expert says the strain first found in the U.K. to become the main strain in B.C.

WatchThe B.1.1.7 variant (U.K. variant) is not only spreading quickly but it's soon to be the main strain in B.C., if it's not already.

The latest surge of COVID-19 infections in British Columbia is being driven largely by variant cases, a regional expert says.

According to Caroline Colijn, a mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University who is tracking the virus, this new surge in cases is mainly caused by variants.

She says the B.1.1.7 variant — also known as the U.K. variant — is now not only spreading quickly but that it’s soon to be the main strain in B.C. if it’s not already.

“It’s causing hospitalizations and intense or severe disease more than the regular COVID-19 did,” said Colijn, who is also the Canada 150 Research Chair.

Yesterday, B.C. reported record-breaking COVID-19 case numbers with 2,090 people testing positive during a 48 hour period However, health officials did not provide information on variant cases,

The most recent data provided by officials shows that 2,643 cases have been identified as variant cases. This includes 2,214 cases of the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant, 50 cases of the B.1.351 (South Africa) variant and 379 cases of the P.1 (Brazil) variant.

In the race between the variant and the vaccine, we’ve lost, says Colijn.

“We weren’t in a place to win,” said the professor. “I think we knew that by March when B.1.1.7 would be rising, we wouldn’t be vaccinated at the levels that would prevent transmission. We had to vaccine those in long-term care, of course. We’ve protected some of our most vulnerable and that’s great, but that means the ones that are left are younger.”

The province’s decision to leave younger people unvaccinated is starting to impact, particularly on those working on the hospital front lines.

“I’ve seen a number of people in their 20s with fairly minor illness, but of the last three people that I’ve had to admit to hospital due to COVID were between 35 and 43, which is a lot younger than we’ve been seeing,” said Dr. Michael Curry, an emergency room physician at the Delta Hospital.

Even with the rise of variants and cases, Vancouver Island still saw a stream of non-essential tourists arriving for the long weekend.

READ MORE: Increased travel between Vancouver Island has many worried as COVID-19 cases climb

So why are people defying public health suggestions?

Dr. Olave Krigolson, a neuroscientist from the University of Victoria, says after a year of isolation, more people are weighing the value of staying in or going out and socializing — and socializing is winning.

“There’s some people that have lost loved ones and it’s a tragedy but the reality is, for most people, it’s been this thing that’s out there but it hasn’t impacted them, so they make a choice to break the rules,” said Dr. Krigolson.

According to the BCCDC, approximately 40 per cent of all of B.C.’s cases are in the 20 to 39 age bracket, but it doesn’t come down to not following the rules, but the risk the age group is facing in the workforce.

“One thing that young people do is go to work and work in the essential services that keep our society keep running. They often are in retail they often are in customer-facing, public-facing roles,” said Colijn.

This past week, the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout for essential workers was put on hold, due to blood clot concerns in people under the age of 55 — a devastating blow to B.C.’s COVID recovery.

“That will have a very bad impact, I hope we can maintain that role out and recognize the importance of using all of our vaccine doses as effectively as possible,” said Colijn.

Until that rollout plan is back up and running, British Columbians might have to hold on a little bit longer, keeping our distance and postponing those big travel plans.

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Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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