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B.C. government advisor with stark warning COVID variants will bring stronger lockdowns

People walk past a COVID-19 testing area in Burnaby, B.C. Wednesday, April 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Summary

Stark warning from one man who advises the province on the spread of COVID-19: We're going to need stronger lockdowns

This comes as B.C. tries to figure out just how bad the potential spread of the new variants are going to be

UBC mathematician describing arrival of variants as the most dangerous development in the pandemic since the summer

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A member of an academic working group that advises the B.C. government on the spread of COVID-19 is warning there will be a need for stronger lockdowns in the province.

Speaking with colleagues abroad, and calculating what he’s seen in the U.K., UBC mathematician Daniel Coombs, who works with both the province and the BCCDC on modelling, describes the arrival of the U.K. variant as the most dangerous time in the pandemic since the spike in cases last summer.

“I am very happy to very hear premier [John] Horgan talking about increased restrictions even in the travel within Canada. I think that’s entirely appropriate at the moment,” he says.

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At the same time, Coombs warns that it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” the new UK and South African variants of the coronavirus will begin to spread in the province.

“We know for sure that the U.K. strain is considerably more transmissible than the COVID strains that we’ve had circulating in Canada since the beginning of the epidemic. And because of that additional transmissibility, it’s entirely possible that if that virus gets a foothold here in British Columbia, that we’ll start to see case counts rising — even pretty rapidly,” he explains. “Just to remind everybody that that level of restrictions has led to a slow decrease in the number of cases of COVID that we have here. So when this new strain turns up, which it could be, it could be a change, it could be a new chapter for the pandemic in British Columbia just because of its much higher transmissibility.”

Coombs argues tighter restrictions will give health officials more of a fighting chance to prevent a third wave of the virus — all as they race to provide enough vaccinations to create herd immunity by the late summer or fall.

“This may not have a big effect in the long term because I expect that. Once a high proportion of the population has been vaccinated, we should see the end of high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. This is really a race between the invasion of the new variant. And the, and our ability to get the vaccine into people’s arms,” he says. “I’m hopeful that even the vaccination we’ve already done will hopefully have an effect on reducing numbers of deaths … However, there’s still plenty of time between now and when we reach very potential of vaccination through to the general population.”