Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

British Columbia’s top doctor says the province likely has Canada’s largest proportion of COVID-19 cases involving the more transmissible variant first identified in Brazil, but that’s partly because it is testing more for that strain.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday the Vancouver Coastal region is leading all other health authorities with about 70 per cent of P.1 variant cases because of a large number of cases linked to the resort town of Whistler.

Overall, just under 60 per cent of daily cases involve variants, including the one first associated with South Africa, though those cases are negligible compared with P.1 and the variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

Henry said the higher risk of transmission with variants prompted the three-week “circuit breaker” imposed last month that included closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars.

Travel between communities is driving higher cases of COVID-19, especially with more transmissible variants in indoor settings, Henry said as B.C. had a record 409 people in hospital, with a peak of 125 patients in intensive care.

“Your probability of being exposed to somebody is higher now because we have higher rates of transmission in the community. So, if I am seeing a group of 10 people, the probability that one of them has the virus … the potential to spread it to me right now is higher than it’s ever been,” Henry said.

While the risk of becoming infected has risen, stopping transmission requires following restrictions already in place such as gathering indoors only with people from the same household, she said.

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