COVID-19 update for Dec. 15: B.C. health minister cautions against holiday travel | 584 new cases, seven deaths | Don't travel internationally for non-essential reasons, government says – Vancouver Sun

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the novel coronavirus situation in B.C.
Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the novel coronavirus situation in B.C. for Dec. 15, 2021.
We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on in B.C. right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly throughout the day, with developments added as they happen.
Check back here for more updates throughout the day. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.
As of the latest figures given on Dec. 15:
• Total number of confirmed cases: 224,225 (3,458 active)
• New cases since Dec. 14: 584
• Total deaths: 2,393 (7 deaths)
• Hospitalized cases: 193
• Intensive care: 77
• Total vaccinations: 4,322,280 received first dose; 4,107,920 second doses; 633,831 third doses,
• Recovered from acute infection: 218,295
• Long-term care and assisted-living homes, and acute care facilities currently affected: 1
IN-DEPTH:   Here are all the B.C. cases of the novel coronavirus in 2021 | in 2020
COVID-19: Here’s everything you need to know about the novel coronavirus
COVID-19: B.C.’s vaccine passport is here and this is how it works
COVID-19: Here’s how to get your vaccination shot in B.C.
COVID-19: Look up your neighbourhood in our interactive map of case and vaccination rates in B.C.
COVID-19: Afraid of needles? Here’s how to overcome your fear and get vaccinated
COVID-19: Five things to know about the P1 variant spreading in B.C.
COVID-19: Here’s where to get tested in Metro Vancouver
B.C. COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool
B.C. health officials reiterated federal guidelines urging Canadians to stay home for the holidays and avoid travel due to the growing risk of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“We are seeing a very significant growth in the Omicron variant of concern around the world and in different parts of Canada,” said Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, during a hastily-called news conference Wednesday.
In Ontario, Omicron is expected to become the dominant variant of concern in days “and numbers are growing here in B.C.,” said Dix. “People need to be cautious and prudent when they travel.”
The number of new COVID-19 cases in B.C. continues to rise, with the province recording 584 positive tests in the past 24 hours, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard.
That’s the highest number of daily new cases recorded since Nov. 4. It also brings the number of active cases in B.C. up to 3,458.
Vancouver Coastal Health, which has enjoyed a relatively low case count in recent months, has reported a spike in new cases related to informal social gatherings, said Dix.
He acknowledged the advice will come as a disappointment to many British Columbians who had been looking forward to travelling during the holiday season, but stressed health measures are in place for a reason: “There’ll be other trips, but you only have one health and one life.”
Dix said unvaccinated people should stay home, while those who are planning holiday gatherings at home should be prudent and keep numbers small.
He also health officials are considering additional measures such as capacity limits for large venues, similar to Ontario which today reinstated capacity limits on large sports and entertainment venues, and whether the B.C. Vaccine Card should also apply to gatherings under 50 people.
B.C. also reported seven deaths related to COVID-19, for a total of 2,393 since the start of the pandemic. There are 193 people in hospital, including 77 in intensive care.
— Cheryl Chan
All adults in Ontario can book COVID-19 booster shots next Monday if three months have passed since their second vaccine dose.
Premier Doug Ford announced the sped-up booster rollout plan today as a measure to defend against the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The province says large companies will help run workplace and community clinics and some settings like pharmacies can start offering walk-in boosters to anyone 18 and older as of Friday.
Anyone who was already eligible for boosters at a longer dose interval can move appointments up to three months since their second dose starting today.
Starting at midnight the province is also capping capacity at 50 per cent for indoor venues with capacity greater than 1,000 people, including sports facilities, theatres and concert facilities.
The province says two million rapid tests are being distributed starting today at pop-up sites in settings like libraries, malls, transit hubs and some liquor stores.
— The Canadian Press
The government now advises against all non-essential international travel in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement Wednesday, following a Tuesday evening meeting between premiers and the prime minister.
The health minister says the highly transmissible variant is now spreading in Canadian communities, and just about anywhere else in the world.
Ottawa agreed to send shipments of booster doses and rapid tests to provinces and territories to quickly ramp up vaccination campaigns to combat the virus at home.
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc urged Canadians to be cautious as they head into the holiday season.
—The Canadian Press
Major differences in how efficiently Omicron and other variants of the coronavirus multiply may help predict Omicron’s effects, researchers said on Wednesday.
Compared to the earlier Delta variant, Omicron multiplies itself 70 times more quickly in tissues that line airway passages, which may facilitate person-to-person spread, they said. But in lung tissues, Omicron replicates 10 times more slowly than the original version of the coronavirus, which might contribute to less-severe illness.
A formal report of the findings is under peer review for publication and has not been released by the research team. In a news release issued by Hong Kong University, study leader Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai said, “It is important to note that the severity of disease in humans is not determined only by virus replication” but also by each person’s immune response to the infection, which sometimes evolves into life-threatening inflammation.
Chan added, “By infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic. Therefore, taken together with our recent studies showing that the Omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from Omicron variant is likely to be very significant.”
— Reuters
The Calgary Flames COVID-19 outbreak has now grown to 27 cases.
The team announced Wednesday morning that the latest round of test results had revealed 17 more positives. That includes leading scorer and star winger Johnny Gaudreau, starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom and head coach Darryl Sutter.
The Flames now have 16 players in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the most of any team at any time so far this season. Added to the list on Wednesday were Gaudreau and Markstrom, plus forwards Byron Froese, Trevor Lewis and Tyler Pitlick and defencemen Rasmus Andersson and Erik Gudbranson.
There are three new cases among coaches — Sutter, Kirk Muller and Ryan Huska — and seven among support staffers.
The Flames’ training facilities are currently closed and all players are isolating and being tested daily. Although they are scheduled to return to action Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, that game will presumably be postponed.
Meanwhile, the team Calgary was supposed to play on Tuesday night, the Nashville Predators, announced Wednesday that head coach John Hynes, three assistant coaches and six players are in the COVID-19 protocol.
Forwards Mikael Granlund, Ryan Johansen, Matt Luff, Michael McCarron and Philip Tomasino and defenseman Ben Harpur joined Hynes, assistant coaches Dan Lambert and Todd Richards and goaltending coach Ben Vanderklok.
Two other unidentified members of the traveling party are also in the protocol, general manager David Poile announced.
— Postmedia News
The neutralizing activity of two doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is “substantially low” against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday, citing NIAID data.
However, a third, booster dose of the Moderna vaccine puts the neutralizing activity “well within the range of neutralizing Omicron,” Fauci told reporters at a White House briefing.
There was no need yet for a variant-specific booster shot, he added.
Early data suggests Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant of the virus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at the same briefing, adding that Omicron appeared to have “a doubling time of about two days.”
There are confirmed cases of the variant in at least 36 states, and health officials expect to see the proportion of cases in the United States to continue growing over the coming weeks, she said.
Walensky said officials were starting to see COVID-19 cases increase in fully vaccinated nursing-home residents, but residents who have had a booster shot have an infection rate that is 10 times lower.
— Reuters
B.C. is considering stricter controls on public events before the holidays, the provincial health officer warned Tuesday as the province reported 44 cases of COVID’s highly transmissible Omicron variant and ominous projections for a rapid spread.
Transmission of the variant within the community is low now, Dr. Bonnie Henry said, but daily infections could hit up to 2,000 a day within six weeks, depending on Omicron’s reproduction rate and how well it can evade current vaccines, according to modelling information released Tuesday.
“What I’m telling people right now is to rethink what you’re doing over the holidays in terms of having gatherings with people, particularly large social gatherings with people (where) you don’t know their vaccination status,” Henry said.
B.C. reported 519 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but no additional deaths.
Henry said the province is considering whether to lower the 50-person threshold at which proof of vaccination and safety plans are required for most public events.
Read more HERE.
—Derrick Penner
England’s chief medical officer warned people not to mix with others unless they have to in the run-up to Christmas after Britain recorded its most daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
With a new highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus surging across Britain, a further 78,610 COVID-19 infections were reported on Wednesday, about 10,000 more than the previous high reported in January.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that Britain is being hit by “two epidemics on top of each other” as he urged the public to scale back their Christmas plans.
“People should be prioritizing those things, and only those things, that really matter to them,” he told a news conference. “Don’t mix with people you don’t have to.”
Whitty warned that the number of daily cases would continue to break records in the next few weeks and a big rise in hospitalisations is “a nailed-on prospect.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with a “general instinct to be more cautious” but ruled out further government restrictions for now.
“We’re not canceling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not canceling people’s parties or their ability to mix,” he said.
More than 11 million people have now tested positive for the disease in the United Kingdom, which has a total population of around 67 million.
— Reuters
The Liberal government is considering a host of new border restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, sources told the National Post.
A senior Liberal source said the government is considering all measures, including travel restrictions, but has not yet made a final decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to speak with the premiers Tuesday evening about the Omicron variant and what can be done to curb its rapid spread.
The rise in cases of Omicron is clearly worrying premiers, especially with Christmas just over a week away when many family gatherings will take place.
A source familiar with the Liberal discussions said the government is considering banning all foreign travellers from entering the country for non-essential reasons and putting in place an advisory banning non-essential international travel by Canadians.
—Anja Karadeglija
The number of active COVID-19 cases is back above 3,000 in B.C. after the province recorded another 519 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the  BC CDC’s COVID-19 dashboard  .
There are now 3,171 active cases in B.C. That includes 191 in hospital, 81 of whom in the ICU.
Interior Health had the most new cases with 145, followed by Island Health with 123, Fraser Health with 110, Vancouver Coastal Health with 106 and Northern Health with 34.
No new deaths were recorded, however, leaving the death toll since the start of the pandemic at 2,386.
On the vaccine front, B.C. has now administered more than nine million doses, including 4,316,478 first doses, 4,105,425 second doses and 610,196 third doses.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland offered few new economic measures in the Liberals’ fiscal update Tuesday, portraying the Canadian economy instead as well on the way to a post-pandemic recovery.
Freeland delivered her speech in Parliament on Tuesday amid growing concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which appears to be spreading across the country. She said the government was budgeting $1.7 billion to buy more rapid tests and ship them out across the country to provinces.
Freeland said that funding will buy 180 million tests and provinces should use the ones they have in storage now.
“There is not a shortage of rapid tests today in Canada, and we have a lot more coming. I really urge Canadians, use rapid tests, use boosters, wear your masks.”
Freeland herself used rapid tests on Tuesday after two of her staff tested positive for COVID-19. She said she has since tested negative, but as a precaution gave the fiscal update virtually rather than appearing in person in Parliament.
—Ryan Tumilty
Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry shared the latest epidemiological modelling on Tuesday and an update on B.C. cases related to the Omicron variant.
Officials said the Omicron variant had been detected in 44 cases across B.C. as of Dec. 12.
Of those, 24 are in the Fraser Health region, 11 are in Vancouver Coastal, five are on Vancouver Island, three in the Interior, and one in the Northern Health region.
Omicron was detected in a child as young as 5, and the oldest Omicron patient was 72, though the median age of Omicron cases is 33 years old. None are currently hospitalized.
Seven of the cases are non-vaccinated, of which two are kids under the age of 11. Twenty of the cases have recent travel histories, including trips to Nigeria, South Africa/Zimbabwe, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, and the U.S.
Find out how your neighbourhood is doing in the battle against COVID-19 with the latest number of new cases, positivity rates, and vaccination rates:

Here are a number of information and landing pages for COVID-19 from various health and government agencies.
B.C. COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool
Vancouver Coastal Health – Information on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
HealthLink B.C. – Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page
B.C. Centre for Disease Control – Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
Government of Canada – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update
World Health Organization – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
–with files from The Canadian Press
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