B.C. confirms 24 cases of the new COVID-19 subvariant that has been spreading in the U.S.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a news conference on Oct. 5, 2021.  (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a news conference on Oct. 5, 2021. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)

British Columbia has confirmed 24 cases of the new Omicron subvariant known as XBB 1.5 (or Kraken) to date, making up roughly five to six per cent of all genome-sequenced samples in the province.

Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided the update during a news conference on Friday afternoon.

Henry said the remaining 95 per cent of sequenced samples in B.C. are still another Omicron offspring known as BQ.1.1 — meaning XBB 1.5 (or "Kraken") is far from the dominant strain in the province.

PCR tests alone do not identify variants. B.C. uses genomic sequencing on "a portion" of tests to detect them.

The XBB 1.5 subvariant has been spreading rapidly in the U.S. and was projected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to soon account for about 45 per cent of COVID-19 cases in that country.

The briefing in B.C. comes the day after the B.C. Centre for Disease Control released data showing the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to slowly decline, with just over 300 people currently in hospital.

The data also showed an overall decrease in the number of COVID-19 deaths over the past two months, with 34 fatalities during the last week of 2022.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Influenza declining

Henry said the amount of influenza has steadily declined across all age groups from the spike in late November. The test positivity rate is currently around five per cent, down from a  peak of 27 per cent.

No more children have died from the flu since the fall, when officials confirmed six children and youth had died.

Henry said the "unusual, dramatic spike in influenza" has passed, but the province is "not out of the woods" for respiratory illness season. She said it's typical to see another, less severe wave during this period of flu season.

Test positivity rates also remain high for RSV, according to the BCCDC.

"There is a whole cohort of children who were never exposed to children. ... influenza didn't spread through the first two years of the pandemic, so there's people whose immune system didn't develop the protection that they needed," she said.

Dix said last week the province is expecting some "very challenging weeks for our health-care system" as a delayed result of more people having gathered in person last month for the holidays.

For cases in B.C., hospitalizations and wastewater testing are a better metric for monitoring the extent of the disease's impact as actual case numbers are likely higher than what the BCCDC is reporting.

Reported cases are based primarily on lab-confirmed PCR tests, which are currently inaccessible to the majority of British Columbians.

A total of 4,961 people in British Columbia are believed to have died of causes linked to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The number of deaths, hospitalizations and reported cases can be revised retroactively, as the BCCDC and the provincial Health Ministry receive updated data from regional health authorities.