British Columbia

B.C.'s vaccine card program extended to June 30

B.C.'s vaccine card program to access non-essential spaces, including restaurants, bars and gyms, has been extended until June 30.

Proof of vaccine program was set to expire on Jan. 31; youth sports tournaments to return on Feb. 1

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry delivers a COVID-19 briefing in Vancouver on Jan. 4. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s vaccine card program to access non-essential indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars and gyms, has been extended until June 30.

The program was initially set to expire on Jan. 31.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the extension Tuesday news conference, saying that cases are declining in the community but hospitalizations continue to rise amid the record-breaking fifth wave of the pandemic.

"The vaccine card program is specifically designed to address and mitigate those risks that allow us to keep certain businesses and activities open," Henry said.

"As we move through this period, it will, I expect, no longer be necessary. But right now, it is one of those important tools that we have."

Henry said she doesn't expect a booster dose will be part of the vaccine card program, as not everyone in the province has had the chance to receive a third shot.

The program first went into effect on Sept. 13, with a second dose being required Oct. 24 to access non-essential settings. The system works on a vaccine card QR code that records the user's proof of vaccination, applying to all those over 12 seeking to access those settings.

Also Tuesday, Henry announced that youth sports tournaments will resume on Feb. 1 as more children in the province are vaccinated.

However, she said children and older people in long-term care settings continue to be disproportionately affected by the Omicron variant.

The latest figures from the province on Tuesday showed two fewer people were admitted to hospital over 24 hours, bringing the total number of patients in hospital with the disease in B.C. to 985.

 

However, the number of people in intensive care went up significantly, with 15 more patients in the ICU.

Experts say hospitalizations and deaths are a more accurate barometer of the disease's impact, as new case numbers in B.C. are likely much higher than reported, now that the province has hit its testing limit because of the Omicron surge.

One more person has died since the last update on Monday.

 

Amid confusion among daycare providers and parents regarding changing self-isolation rules, Henry announced she would be holding a townhall on Wednesday to clarify some of the confusion.

Henry said a few cases of a new sub-variant of Omicron, first seen in India and South Africa, had been identified in the province.

However, she said it had not overtaken the main strain to date and its impact was not yet clear.

Province still operating within regular hospital capacity: Dix

Health Minister Adrian Dix said at the news conference that the province was not yet operating beyond base hospital capacity, but that a number of health-care workers being off sick was affecting hospital operations.

"It's not the beds or the space, but the people that are the most significant thing," he said.

Dix said that 9,050 of the province's 11,582 beds (including surge beds) were occupied as of Monday night.

He also said the province would continue to distribute rapid tests to health-care workers, K-12 and post-secondary students, as well as to long-term health-care settings.

Earlier this week, B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau urged the province to provide better tools and improve public health measures to allow residents to better protect themselves against the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

She said she would like to see the province providing N95 masks to all health-care workers and ensuring all classrooms in B.C. have the air filtration system they need.

"Those health-care workers are employees of the government and they deserve the highest level of protection that this government can afford in a pandemic," she said.

With files from The Early Edition and Eva Uguen-Csenge

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