VANCOUVER — COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered in all long-term care homes in British Columbia, health officials said Friday, while applauding new federal restrictions on international travel that come at a critical time.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced the province will receive fewer doses of the Moderna vaccine than expected, but if transmission gets under control, recreational travel within the province for spring break may be possible.
"I am just relieved, tremendously relieved and grateful that we've been able to get into every single long-term care home and assisted living facility in this province, every single one, and have offered protection to those, our most vulnerable citizens," Henry said.
It means the first dose of the vaccine has been delivered to all residents and staff who want it and although exact figures weren't available, Henry said uptake was "very high" and often at 100 per cent.
There are now 23 active outbreaks at long-term care homes, down from 42 outbreaks two weeks ago. In assisted-living facilities there are two outbreaks, down from seven.
"That is progress and it reflects our immunization efforts," Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
Among the outbreaks declared over is the one at Little Mountain Place, where 41 residents died, making it the deadliest outbreak in B.C.
The Moderna vaccine shortage of 20 per cent over the next week joins an already-announced shortage of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but Dix and Henry said they expect to begin "catching up" next week.
British Columbia recorded 514 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 66,779.
There are 4,557 active cases, including 292 in hospital, of whom 74 are in intensive care.
Five more people have died.
The province also identified new cases of COVID-19 variants believed to be more contagious than the original strain. There are now seven cases of the strain first identified in the United Kingdom and four associated with South Africa, Henry said.
Two have been linked but three cases are "most concerning," Henry said, because they are not associated with travel. Contact tracers are investigating.
Henry and Dix joined Premier John Horgan in applauding new travel restrictions announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that are aimed at reducing the spread of the more infectious variants.
Trudeau said all returning Canadians will quarantine in an approved hotel for three days at their own expense while they await results of a COVID-19 test taken at the airport.
The federal government also reached an agreement with airlines to stop flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30, Trudeau said.
Horgan said the decision will keep British Columbians safe.
"Our government had been calling for mandatory quarantine measures to restrict international travel further. We trust the federal government's efforts to monitor and follow up with these travellers will be vigilant," he said.
On Wednesday, the premier said the province had no immediate plans to impose travel restrictions requiring anyone entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days.
A spokesman for the Vancouver Airport Authority said it is in "active discussions" with government partners on the practical details of the new testing requirements for travellers.
Henry said officials have also discussed travel from American destinations like Hawaii and Arizona, which are popular with western Canadians.
"I can't say all the details, but we understand Canada is having ongoing discussions with our neighbours to the south," she said, noting that the United States is in the process of updating its border regulations.
"I expect we will hear more about that in the coming days," she said.
She repeated that British Columbians should plan to stay home for upcoming holidays like Family Day and the Lunar New Year and likely spring break in March, but by that point, travel within B.C. may be possible again.
"Spring break is something we're going to have to do at home. I hope, and given where we are at with the immunization program, with transmission, with all of us continuing to do our bit, by the time we get to spring break we'll be able to safely travel within B.C."
It will depend heavily on individuals doing their part now to reduce transmission, she said.
Travel from outside the province will be strongly discouraged, she added.
"If we can get this under control and get people protected, we can have summer again."
— With files from Nick Wells.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press