B.C. will likely remain under strict pandemic-related restrictions until at least the summer, the province’s top health officials said Tuesday.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry delivered the grim timeline Tuesday, as she announced five new deaths and 43 new cases of COVID-19.
The virus will remain a risk until either a vaccine is developed, she added, or enough people get sick for there to be broad immunity in the community.
Experts have say a vaccine is up to 18 months away.
“I don’t believe we will have all of these restrictions for that period of time. What I do know is this is a critical part of our first wave,” said Henry.
She said the severity of that wave and how it affected public health measures would depend on how well people complied with the current restrictions such as staying home, avoiding gatherings and remaining two metres apart.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the chance of public health orders being lifted before the end of May or early weeks of June was “little to none.”
Henry said once this current epidemic wave had passed, the province can begin to think about ways to reduce restrictions and move back to focusing on containing individual imported cases and outbreak clusters of the virus.
Twenty-four people have now died in B.C. of COVID-19, while 1,013 people have been confirmed to have the disease.
Outbreaks have been confirmed in 19 seniors’ care facilities.
Of those, however, Henry said 507 of them — more than 50 per cent — have now recovered.
That leaves 482 confirmed, active cases, 128 of whom are people in hospital and 61 in intensive care.
The total number of B.C. cases is unknown, as some symptomatic people have been told to assume they have the virus and self-isolate.
Meanwhile, the Interior Health region had identified its first large community outbreak, involving temporary foreign workers at a West Kelowna agriculture business.
Bylands Nurseries has been put under quarantine, Henry said, while the affected workers are isolated in company housing and receiving care.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had signed contracts with three companies to begin producing critically needed personal protective equipment for health-care workers.
B.C. has faced its own shortage of protective gear, with the province looking at ways to reduce usage, and even re-use some items.
On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province had received a shipment of one million masks, but continued to face stiff international competition as it looked to source more gear.