The number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 XBB 1.5 subvariant continues to grow in British Columbia, with at least 12 cases documented as of Wednesday, the province’s health minister said.
That’s up from the five cases confirmed last Friday, Adrian Dix said. And it’s likely a significant undercount.
“There are obviously more cases than that. These are the tested cases that have gone through whole genome sequencing,” Dix said.
“What it tells you is it’s here in B.C. For the moment it’s not the most important subvariant, but it’s just starting here.”
Accurately tracking the true number of cases of the new variant in the community is currently virtually impossible, as the province stopped doing PCR tests for the majority of the public in December 2021.
XBB.1.5 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron subvariant XBB and has been deemed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the “most transmissible” COVID strain so far.
Earlier Wednesday, the national Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) confirmed at least 21 known cases in the country.
The subvariant, which has earned the nickname Kraken on social media, is spreading rapidly in Asia, and is believed to now account for about 70 per cent of cases in the northeastern U.S. according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PHAC has not said yet if it considers XBB 1.5 a variant of concern. Officials in B.C. say they are watching it closely, and Dix urged people to recommit themselves to precautions including wearing masks, staying home when sick and washing hands.
He also urged people to get a COVID-19 booster shot if they have not had one yet.
“The concern about this subvariant … is the likelihood that it may spread more easily, not that it’s more severe,” he said.
“This is the time to be cautious and get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
As of Monday, data from the B.C. Ministry of Health showed that about 63 per cent of British Columbians aged 18 and up had received a third dose of the vaccine, while about 37 per cent had received a fourth dose.
The update comes hours ahead of new COVID-19 travel measures being implemented amid concerns about the new subvariant’s spread.
Staring at 9 p.m. Wednesday, travellers departing from China, Hong Kong and Macau will need to show a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to Canada.