COVID update for Jan. 5-11: Here’s what you need to know this week

Here’s your weekly update with everything you need to know on the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know about the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world for the week of Jan. 5-11. This page will be updated with the latest COVID news and related research developments daily throughout the week, so be sure to check back often.

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You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.

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Here are the latest weekly B.C. figures given on Jan. 5:

• Hospitalized cases: 356 (up seven)
• Intensive care: 25 (down 10)
• New cases: 693 over seven days ending Dec. 31 (up 84)
• Total number of confirmed cases: 393,145
• Total deaths over seven days ending Dec. 31: 13 (total 4,896)

Read the full report here | Next update: Jan. 12


Another Canadian airport to test wastewater to detect emerging COVID variants

While the Canadian government ended COVID-19 testing of travellers flying in from around the world, it has found a new way to detect emerging variants that starts with a flush.

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For almost a year, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been testing wastewater at Toronto’s Pearson Airport and now plans to expand it to Vancouver International Airport this month.

Dr. Guillaume Poliquin, vice president of the National Microbiology Laboratory, said technicians have been testing wastewater at three sites, in Toronto; terminal 1, terminal 3, and the dumping facility where airplanes offload their bathroom tanks.

“That data is quite helpful in getting a sense of the mix of variants that are transiting through Pearson and we’re able to see differences in the three different sampling sites,” he said.

Read the full story here.

—The Canadian Press

B.C. resumes emergency ops centres for respiratory virus season

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Twenty emergency operations centres have been reactivated in B.C. to help hospitals cope with an anticipated surge in respiratory illness and COVID-19.

Health Minister Adrian Dix made the announcement Friday, saying the centres will reopen Monday for at least six weeks.

He also said the non-urgent surgeries that were postponed during this season’s “unprecedented” increase in demand for hospital beds have resumed.

“That means people who need overnight stays after surgery are back in the hospital in significant numbers,” said Dix during a news conference.

Read the full story here.

— Tiffany Crawford

Hospitalizations up slightly, but number in intensive care down: Weekly B.C. data

There were 13 deaths related to COVID-19 and a drop in the number of people in intensive care in the latest weekly data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control released Thursday.

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Because of delays in reporting COVID-related deaths, especially over the holiday season, that number is expected to increase as more data is relayed to the B.C. CDC.

The number of people in hospital who tested positive for the virus is up slightly to 356 patients.

The latest numbers are for the week of Dec. 25 to 31, except hospitalizations and ICU numbers, which are current as of Thursday.

The BCCDC didn’t release data last week, but a situation report says 46 people died during the week of Dec. 18 to 24 who had tested positive for COVID-19 within 30 days of their deaths.

— Joseph Ruttle

At least 12 cases of new Kraken variant now in B.C.

Kraken, a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 that has been sweeping through the U.S., is now in B.C.

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The Provincial Health Services Authority has confirmed that as of late Wednesday there are at least 12 cases of the Kraken, or XBB. 1.5 — a subvariant of Omicron and a variant of concern — in the province.

The cases have all been detected in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, according to an email from PHSA spokesperson Cassidy Olivier.

“It is important to note that these numbers are not reflective of all positive cases in the province. PCR testing is used primarily in health care settings, such as hospitals, to identify people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19. PCR tests are needed to sequence the COVID-19 virus to identify variants,” he said, in the email.

XBB1.5 is of interest because it has acquired additional mutations that enhances its ACE2 binding properties. These mutations may indicate that this variant is able to spread more easily but it does not mean that the illness is more severe, he added.

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—Tiffany Crawford

What is the Kraken COVID variant, and what’s with the monster nicknames?

It is the nickname for a worrying new subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19.

“It is on the increase in the U.S. and Europe and has now been identified in more than 25 countries,” said World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution says the “rapidly increasing proportion of XBB.1.5 in the United States and other countries” is an urgent concern and it is preparing a new update in the next few days.

Why Kraken?

This is a nickname, light-hearted if not actually funny. The official WHO naming convention that follows the Greek alphabet for variants of concern remains in place. Omicron is the currently dominant variant of COVID-19. If it has a successor, it will be called Pi.

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Read the full story here.

—National Post

China under-reporting COVID deaths, says World Health Organization

Data from China shows that no new coronavirus variant has been found there, but also that the country under-represents how many people have died in a rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Wednesday.

Global unease has grown about the accuracy of China’s reporting of an outbreak that has filled hospitals and overwhelmed some funeral homes since Beijing abruptly reversed its “zero COVID” policy.

The U.N. agency was releasing data provided by the Chinese Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a day after WHO officials met Chinese scientists. China has been reporting daily COVID deaths in single figures.

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Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, told a media briefing that current numbers being published from China under-represent hospital admissions, intensive care unit patients and “particularly in terms of death.”

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

Kraken is the latest variant of COVID-19, but expect more mutations

Kraken, a subvariant of Omicron, is the newest form of COVID-19. It is sweeping through the United States and, inevitably, toward B.C.

But while XBB. 1.5, to give it its scientific name, is new, COVID variants aren’t and they will be with us for some time to come, experts say.

Kraken was responsible for 40 per cent of the confirmed COVID cases in the U.S. last week, and 75 per cent of confirmed cases in the American Northeast.

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“Kraken is a variant and we will be exposed more and more to these variants because they find a way to escape the immune system,” said Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor of infectious diseases at UBC and researcher of vaccines.

Antibodies are produced in our bodies according to a defined protein or piece of a molecule that produces an immune response, he said.

—Gord McIntyre

EU offers China free vaccines as COVID-19 infections surge

The European Union has offered free COVID-19 vaccines to China, the EU executive said on Tuesday, as infections there surged following Beijing’s relaxation of its “zero-COVID” policies.

China has not responded to the offer yet, a spokesperson for the European Commission told journalists at a regular briefing. He did not specify the amount of vaccines the EU was offering or their manufacturers.

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“In view of the COVID situation in China, (Health) Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has reached out to her Chinese counterparts to offer EU solidarity and support,” he said.

“This includes public health expertise as well as variant-adapted EU vaccine donations.”

Asked whether Beijing would accept the EU offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning sidestepped a direct reply, telling Reuters that China’s vaccination rate and treatment capacity continued to rise and its supplies were “adequate.”

— Reuters

Adrian Dix supports COVID-19 testing for travellers from China

B.C.’s health minister says he supports Ottawa’s decision to temporarily require people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada, beginning in early January.

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Adrian Dix says in a news release that the province will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world while working with its federal partners to ensure the public is protected and informed.

The federal government says the measure, announced in a separate release Saturday, is “in response to the surge of COVID-19 in the People’s Republic of China and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases.”

Ottawa says, starting Jan. 5, people age two and older who are travelling from the three countries will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline, taken no more than two days before their departure, before boarding a flight to Canada.

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Read the full story here.

— The Canadian Press

Ottawa to temporarily require negative COVID-19 test from travellers from China

Ottawa plans to temporarily require people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada, beginning in early January.

The federal government says in a Saturday news release that the requirement will apply to all air travellers age two and older from the three countries and will begin on Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. EST.

The government says the measure is “in response to the surge of COVID-19 in the People’s Republic of China and given the limited epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data available on these cases.”

It says people will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to the airline, taken no more than two days before their departure, before boarding a flight to Canada.

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Read the full story here.

— The Canadian Press

What are B.C.’s current public health measures?

MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.

Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel spaces such as trains, airports and airplanes, and in health care settings.

GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.

There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.

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CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting. Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life.

Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.

How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?

Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:

• Get registered online at to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.

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Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.

If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.

TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.

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