Edmonton

Subvariant of Omicron now dominant strain of COVID-19 in Alberta

The Omicron subvariant BA.2 is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Alberta, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw says transmission is expected to trend upward in coming weeks.

More transmissible, but no evidence BA.2 causes more severe disease: Hinshaw

Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, updated Albertans on COVID-19 Wednesday. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Omicron subvariant BA.2 is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported Tuesday.

"As of March 21, approximately 60 per cent of positive cases are BA.2, so it is now the dominant strain of Omicron in the province," Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told a news conference.

"Although inherently more transmissible than BA.1, so far there is no evidence of it causing more severe disease than BA1, based on clinical data from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ontario," she said.

But a more transmissible variant can have a large impact on a population, even if the risk of severe outcomes is the same or lower for individuals, Hinshaw warned.

"We should expect to see transmission trending upwards in the coming weeks," she said.

"Those at risk of severe outcomes should revisit their precautionary measures, and those who have not yet gotten their booster dose should do so as soon as possible."

Hinshaw's update Wednesday came three weeks after the province lifted nearly all public health restrictions, and reduced reporting on COVID-19 numbers to once a week, instead of every weekday.

Since the province's last numbers from Friday, 21 more deaths have been reported, bringing the total number of deaths in Alberta due to COVID to 4,044. 

There are 956 people in hospital with the disease — down 10 from Friday — and 56 in ICU, down from 62.

Nearly all pandemic public health measures were lifted in the province as of March 1, as the Alberta government launched Step 2 of its reopening plan.

A date for Step 3 — when COVID-19 cases will no longer need to isolate and remaining continuing care measures will be removed — has not been set. Health Minister Jason Copping has said it will be contingent on hospitalization trends.

Copping told Wednesday's news conference that surgeries are back to near-normal volumes. They are currently at 96 per cent of average weekly volumes in pre-pandemic years, he said.

"This health system has gone through an unprecedented global crisis — the equivalent of five winters in the past two years — and the impact on patients has been much less than it might have been, thanks to the dedication of our health workers," Copping said.

The province remains committed to reducing wait lists, he said.

"We're identifying new opportunities and accelerating the work wherever we can," he said. "We'll have more to say on this in the coming weeks."

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