All residents and staff at long-term care facilities in B.C. have now been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, but an anticipated vaccine shortfall in the coming weeks is proving to be a challenge for the province's rollout plan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Friday in a live briefing.
A "high" percentage of those eligible for the vaccine in long-term care facilities received doses, she said, while announcing 514 new cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths.
As of Friday, there were 4,557 active cases of the disease in the province, with 292 people in hospital, 74 of whom are in intensive care.
Henry says she is "tremendously relieved" the vaccine has made its way to all of B.C.'s most vulnerable long-term care residents. As many as 100 per cent of residents in some facilities have received a vaccine, she said.
However, due to production delays, B.C. will receive a reduced shipment of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines over the next two weeks.
"It took us a little by surprise," Henry said. "It is going to be a challenging few weeks. It's frustrating."
B.C. has been assured by the federal government that the shortfall will be made up for by the end of March, Henry said. She said she is hopeful Canada will soon approve the AstraZeneca vaccine.
During Friday's briefing, Henry confirmed seven cases associated with the COVID variant first seen in the U.K. and four cases associated with the strain first identified in South Africa.
She announced one new outbreak at a health-care facility, for a total of 25 outbreaks in long-term care facilities. An outbreak at Little Mountain Place in Vancouver that killed dozens of residents has been declared over.
A total of 124,979 people in B.C. have received a vaccine, with 4,262 of those being second doses.
Henry said 7,000 people are currently under monitoring after being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
So far, 59,551 B.C. residents have recovered from the virus since the pandemic began, while 1,189 people have died.
'Day trips are less risky'
Health officials continue to urge British Columbians to avoid non-essential travel, and for other Canadians to avoid vacationing in B.C.
Nearly 300 people in Whistler have tested positive for COVID-19 so far this year, and Henry says officials are keeping an eye on the area. At least six restaurants and businesses have been identified as places of possible exposure.
Henry said recreational stay-overs and small group gatherings continue to fuel the spread of the virus.
Earlier in the week, Henry said people should stick to their local ski hills, but on Friday, she said day trips were better than weekend vacations.
"I would say day trips are less risky, with your family, your household," she said. "If you're somebody who works, or has strong connections and lives partly in Whistler, then yes, that is your local ski hill.
"It is a challenge, because we are trying to keep those small businesses open as much as we can," Henry said.
"The risk is not on the ski hill. We are working with the industry, with all of the industries involved, to come up with a community way of supporting this."
Henry said she hopes B.C.'s immunization program will help reduce transmission rates, so that British Columbians are able to enjoy safe travel within the province, but that will become clearer in the coming months.
The steps individuals make now will affect what kind of summer B.C. will be able to have, Henry said.
"The fewer transmission events we have ... the less chance we have for the virus to mutate. All of the things that we do to stop transmission are important for us individually but also collectively," she said.
"The little things that we do do make a difference."
Henry said she supports the federal government's tougher restrictions to discourage international travel.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said beginning Sunday, major Canadian airlines will be suspending service to some sun destinations, including the Caribbean and Mexico until April 30.
Starting Feb.3, all international passenger, private and charter flights, including from the U.S., will land in only four Canadian cities: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal.
He said the federal government will also be introducing mandatory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing at the airport for people returning to Canada "as soon as possible in the coming weeks."
Travellers entering Canada will have to quarantine at a government-approved hotel at their own expense as they wait for their test results.