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Omicron transmission is declining in B.C., modelling suggests — but hospitalizations have yet to peak

Modelling shows community spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant is on the decline, the B.C. government says, but the province is not out of the woods yet.

Health officials presented the latest COVID-19 modelling projections in a news conference Friday. 

The data shows community transmission has decreased in the Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and Island Health regions so far, but there is still likely to be a rise in hospitalizations in the coming week or two.

This, according to the province, is because of a lag time between peak community transmission and peak hospitalizations during the Omicron wave as evidenced in other parts of the world, such as New York City and London, where the variant arrived earlier.

B.C. officials also looked at wastewater samples that they say showed Omicron transmission probably peaked in the Lower Mainland during the first week of January.

On Thursday, two weeks into January, the province reported more people in hospital than at any other point in the pandemic, displaying the lag between community spread and hospital admittance.

While only 17 per cent of B.C.’s population is unvaccinated, data shows the risk of death is higher for those who are not immunized.

In December, a report from an independent COVID-19 modelling group said hospitalizations due to B.C.’s Omicron-fuelled fifth wave would reach unprecedented heights by around mid-January.

The variant is also responsible for staffing shortages in many sectors, including among policeparamedic and health-care workers.

B.C.’s largest provider of medical laboratory services, LifeLabs, has also been forced to close or reduce hours at 16 locations for at least two weeks because of staffing issues related to the variant.

Experts say hospitalizations are now a more accurate barometer of the disease’s impact, as new case numbers in B.C. are likely much higher than reported, now that the province has hit its testing limit because of the Omicron surge.

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