British Columbia reported four more deaths along with 1,006 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
At a live briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were 502 people with COVID-19 in hospital — a new record — 161 of them in critical or intensive care.
Of the new cases, 241 were in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 600 were in the Fraser Health region, 37 were in Island Health, 83 were in Interior Health, and 42 were in Northern Health.
“The number of hospitalizations and people ICU continues to be alarming and to rise. The pressure on our health care system is immense right now and our healthcare workers need our help,” Henry said as she pleaded with people not to travel, to avoid indoor gatherings and to keep outdoor gatherings small, distanced and masked.
Amid the rising pressure on the health-care system the province is postponing an estimated 1,750 scheduled surgeries at nine hospitals across the Lower Mainland over the next two weeks.
Affected hospitals include Abbotsford Regional Hospital, Burnaby General Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital and Royal Columbian Hospital in the Fraser Health region.
In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, surgeries are being suspended at Lion’s Gate Hospital, Richmond Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital, the UBC Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province would review the situation in two weeks, and could potentially extend the suspensions.
Updated numbers on active COVID-19 cases and people isolating due to possible exposure to the novel coronavirus were not immediately available on Thursday.
Henry also provided an update on B.1617, the emergent “double mutant” COVID-19 variant being investigated as a possible contributor to the massive surge of new cases in India.
“We have seen it here in about 40 cases at different times over the last month and a half to two months,” Henry said.
“A number of them were directly related to travel from India, and others were in people we did not link with travel form India.”
There have been at least 11 direct flights from India to B.C. with COVID-19 exposures in April. The federal government moved Wednesday to suspend direct travel from India and Pakistan to Canada for 30 days.
“Internationally and nationally this has not yet been identified as a variant of concern. It is now in Canada a variant of interest, and that is why we are now looking at it a little bit more closely,” Henry said.
The province has administered more than 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 1.4 million of those, accounting for over 27 per cent of B.C.’s population, were first doses.
Henry said the province would begin scheduling vaccine bookings for people aged 60 years old and older later on Thursday, and urged anyone eligible to get immunized to do so as soon as possible.
British Columbians aged 25 and over are also being encouraged to register for their vaccine, with registration opening to all people older than 18 on Friday.
In total, the province has recorded 122,757 cases, while 1,550 people have died.
Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety, is slated to reveal more details about new travel restrictions in the province on Friday.