British Columbia

B.C. reduces COVID-19 self isolation to 5 days with no symptoms, fast tracks booster program

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced changes to visits to long term-care facilities, the isolation duration for vaccinated people and priority booster shots for pregnant women.

B.C. health officials announced 3,795 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths on Friday

B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says vaccinated people can now isolate for five days following a COVID-19 infection instead of seven days. (James Mulleder/CBC)

British Columbia's top doctor says the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 is being reduced to five days for vaccinated people without symptoms.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the move is in response to the latest variant of concern causing a spike in infections in the province.

She said people must wear a mask around others for an additional five days after leaving self-isolation, which is dependent on being free of symptoms.

"This is a risk mitigating strategy," she said. "Omicron has a quicker incubation period, so people are infectious quicker and their infection period is resolved sooner."

People who haven't been vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days. Previously, vaccinated people were required to isolate for seven days.

The change was one of several announced on Friday morning at the final update on the pandemic in the province for 2021. Henry was joined by B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix and executive lead of B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Program, Dr. Penny Ballem, in Vancouver.

Essential-only LTC visits, interval-based boosters

Starting Saturday, visits to long-term care facilities will also be limited to essential visitors in response to recent outbreaks.

Henry says cases of the Omicron variant are surging across the province.

"We need to decrease the number of people coming into our long-term care homes to ensure that health care workers in those settings are able to manage," Henry said.

She said at the news conference that she will re-evaluate the decision to restrict visitors on Jan. 18, when further COVID-19 public health measures are also set to expire.

Starting in the new year the province will also be moving to an interval-based booster campaign, according to the head of the province's vaccination program.

Ballem said the new focus is to get everyone a booster shot about six months after their second COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of age. Studies have shown that immunity fades after six months.

She said the province has provided more than 900,000 booster shots so far and has focused on those most at risk, including health care workers and residents of long term living.

"We have now invited all those who are at six months who are 60 and over," Ballem said. "The invitation for everyone eligible will be out by the end of this week."

She said an additional 250 pharmacies will be available to administer COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of this week, which means more than 1000 locations will be able to provide vaccinations starting in January.

In addition, Henry added that the province will prioritize pregnant women for the booster shot program as they are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

"If you are pregnant and have six months after your second dose, you are eligible now for your booster dose regardless of your age, but we don't know who you are so you'll need to contact the call centre at 1-833-838-2323 and self identify that you are pregnant," she said.

The province is going through its worst spike in infections yet, driven by the more infectious Omicron variant, with the 4,383 cases recorded on Thursday marking an all-time record number for daily cases.

B.C. health officials announced 3,795 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths on Friday. There are currently 20,811 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Henry also discouraged New Year's Eve parties, which are prohibited under public health orders.

"Tonight is not a night to go party. It's inevitable that somebody that you are with is incubating or is able to spread this virus and may not even realize it themselves."

With files from The Canadian Press