Online COVID-19 vaccine booking is set to launch in British Columbia on Tuesday as the province enters the next phase of its immunization rollout.
The news comes amid spiking case numbers and worries about variants of concern in B.C., with a record-high daily total on Saturday of 1,077 new infections and an outbreak on the Vancouver Canucks hockey team.
B.C. reported 999 cases on Sunday and 890 cases on Monday. The province said 23 people had died from complications linked to the virus since Thursday.
There are 8,490 active cases in the province, of which 318 people are hospitalized, with 96 in intensive care.
The province also reported 916 new cases of variants of concern, for a total of 3,559 cases to date. This includes 2,771 cases of the variant first found in the United Kingdom and 737 of the strain detected in Brazil, also known as P.1.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday there is a “significant” amount of P.1 in the province and he expects the variants of concern to eventually replace less transmissive COVID-19 strains.
“What we know is the most transmissive varieties, the variants of COVID-19, are ultimately going to take over,” he said. “We’ve seen that in other jurisdictions and we expect to see that here.”
Of the 318 people in hospital, 60 are linked to variants of concern, he said.
Dix said the province is not seeing an increase in hospitalizations of young people, but rather that among those who are hospitalized, more are needing critical care. He also said while the average ages of patients are lower than they were before B.C.’s oldest residents got vaccinated, those numbers are relative.
“I think there’s some confusion in people’s minds. When we say it’s increasing among young people, still, the average age of someone hospitalized in Fraser Health is about 65.”
It has been a week since B.C. announced temporary restrictions on indoor dining and indoor group fitness intended as a “circuit breaker” to stop the spread.
On Monday, the City of Vancouver suspended the business licences of two restaurants that allegedly broke public health orders prohibiting indoor service.
In a written statement, Mayor Kennedy Stewart accused the restaurant owners of “openly” defying public health orders.
“The harassment and bullying of public health officials experienced during the execution of their duties is completely unacceptable,” he alleged.
The licences of Corduroy and Gusto restaurants are suspended until April 20.
No one from the restaurants could immediately be reached for comment.
The online registration system for vaccinations was supposed to open April 12, but Premier John Horgan said in a news release that the earlier launch marks a “major milestone” in B.C.’s fight against COVID-19.
When the Get Vaccinated system opens, people born in 1950 or earlier, Indigenous people who are 18 and older, and those who have certain medical conditions will be eligible to register.
A telephone option is also available and people can register in person at their nearest Service BC location.
The province faced criticism last month for not having an online registration system ready at the start of the second phase of its age-based vaccination program. Call centres in each health authority were initially overwhelmed, and Fraser Health was the only one with an online platform.
Asked whether he could assure residents that the new web-based system would not crash on the first day, Dix said call centre operators have been using the system to book hundreds of thousands of appointments over the past couple weeks.
“We’ve tested the system for significant numbers and it’s worked well. Of course, we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow,” Dix said Monday.
People aged 55 to 65 on the Lower Mainland are still eligible to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at a participating pharmacy. The province said it will announce details about expanding the program to other regions in the days ahead.
Dr. Penny Ballem, who’s leading of the immunization program, said B.C. has worked “diligently and tirelessly” to get the provincewide online registration and single phone-number systems ready.
“We’re ready to move onto the next phase of the largest vaccination program in B.C. history,” she said.
To date, the province said 893,590 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, of which 87,472 are second doses.
If B.C.’s vaccine supply is delivered as scheduled, the province said everyone who is eligible will receive their first dose of a vaccine by the end of June.
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