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The next few weeks in B.C. are critical as Omicron cases surge

Click to play video: 'B.C. breaks another record with more than 2,000 COVID cases' B.C. breaks another record with more than 2,000 COVID cases
B.C. has broken another record for COVID cases in a single day. This is the third day in a row as the highly-contagious Omicron variant continues to drive cases upwards. Global BC's political reporter, Keith Baldrey, breaks down where most of the cases are coming from and looks ahead to Friday's surprise COVID briefing from the province. – Dec 23, 2021

We have entered a new phase in this pandemic and it could not have come at a worse time.

There are new pandemic restrictions just in time for the holiday season and I’m seeing a little more pushback to them than previously.

In many instances, the new rules are like the old rules that we have experienced before: only small numbers allowed for social gatherings, no weddings or funerals, lower venue capacities, fewer events, closed gyms and dance classes.

This is all happening as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is racing around much of the world and infecting people at an incredibly rapid pace. It will be the dominant variant in B.C. and much of Canada within days.

But this is also happening at a time when close to 90 per cent of the B.C. eligible population has been fully vaccinated (and the number of booster doses is growing 25,000 a day) and we’ve all gotten used to wearing masks and keeping our distance and not gathering in large numbers at social occasions.

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B.C. businesses ordered to shut down due to COVID can apply for relief funds – Dec 23, 2021

Read more: B.C. records 2,046 new COVID cases, surpassing projected ‘worst case scenario’

Understandably, people feel they have done their part for so long now and simply want a break from it all. Call it “COVID fatigue.”

Yet the severity of the situation can be measured by Dr. Bonnie Henry’s move to tighten restrictions so quickly – just days – after she first announced some rather modest measures.

When daily COVID-19 cases go from 350 a day to more than 1,000 a day in just one week it is more than enough reason to sound the alarm bells. And driving it all is the highly transmissible Omicron, which is infecting mostly fully vaccinated people.

The key question in the weeks ahead is whether our hospital system (particularly health-care workers) is overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases. Thousands of people getting sick with Omicron is one thing; a large percentage of them heading to hospital is quite another.

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This past weekend saw a mild uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations but not a huge surge. That could change in the days ahead, particularly on Vancouver Island and in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, where there has been an explosion of cases in recent days.

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Covid-19: New restrictions now in effect in British Columbia – Dec 23, 2021

Read more: Worst-case scenario: 2,000 COVID cases a day as Omicron spreads in community, B.C. officials say

Henry has always said her strategy in taking on COVID-19 is based on three goals: minimizing severe outcomes (i.e. deaths) from contracting the virus, not allowing it to overwhelm the health care-system, and providing minimal disruptions to society.

We have largely accomplished the first goal and we are at crunch time when it comes to the second. I would argue the third goal has largely been maintained, even with the new restrictions.

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Some scientists theorize that perhaps Omicron will become a “nuisance virus” that infects a lot of people but does not inflict a lot of damage. Let’s hope so.

The next few weeks are critical. There will be some folks who choose not to obey the rules but I suspect most of us have gotten used to our new way of living.

COVID fatigue or not, we are entering potentially the most dangerous time during the pandemic.

Hang on everyone, and stay safe.

Keith Baldrey is Global BC’s chief political reporter.

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