Variants now make up 9 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Variants of concern now make up about nine per cent of active cases of COVID-19 in the province, an increase from three per cent in late January, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday.

“In other jurisdictions, they have seen a much more rapid growth, the variants of concern as a proportion of all COVID cases going from three to four per cent to well over half of all cases in just six weeks,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference.

“This means that our health measures — both the overall restrictions as well as the targeted measures for variant cases — are working to slow the growth, and if we continue to work together we can continue to limit the spread.”

Alberta reported 47 new cases of variants of the novel coronavirus in Wednesday’s case count, bringing the provincial total to 734 variant cases.

The total number of new cases reported Wednesday was 399, leaving the province with 4,463 active cases.

Two more deaths were reported: a woman in her 70s in the Calgary zone and a woman in her 80s in the Central zone,

There are now 254 people in hospital with the disease, including 37 in intensive care.

New rush for vaccinations

Wednesday’s update was on the first day Albertans under 65 could begin booking COVID-19 immunizations.

Albertans born in 1957 and all First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1972 are now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

Alberta Health Services said more than 11,500 people had booked appointments as of 2:30 p.m.

Alberta has 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine available with more expected to arrive next week, AHS said.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says demand was high to book the AstraZeneca vaccine in Alberta on Wednesday, and the ongoing rollout will see bookings open up to more age groups. 1:15

The AHS booking website has been upgraded to better accommodate demand, capable of booking 100,000 appointments over a 24-hour period, AHS said.

“Rolling out all COVID-19 vaccines has been a mammoth logistical undertaking,” Hinshaw said.

“The more people who become immunized, the less the virus will be able to mutate and the less it will impact our communities.”

Continue to follow guidelines, Hinshaw says

Hinshaw urged Albertans to continue following public health guidelines “in any activities that you do. Even if you have been vaccinated with one or two doses, all public health orders in place still apply.”

Queuing technology has been added to the online booking tool, indicating wait times for each user, AHS said.

Depending on supply, Albertans born between 1958 and 1971 will be offered the chance to book appointments in coming days, with the rollout expanding by one birth year at a time.  

Studies are now looking at the impact of mixing vaccines, Hinshaw said.

“There are studies underway in the U.K. right now where they’re looking at people who receive a first dose of AstraZeneca and a second dose of Pfizer, or vice versa,” she said.

“Those studies will be very, very helpful to be able to determine what the outcomes are of people who receive different types of vaccines for their first shot and their booster.

“Once we have the results of those studies, we’ll be able to make better decisions with those outcomes about how we can offer that second dose to individuals.”

As of Wednesday, the province had administered almost 309,000 doses of vaccine, with more than 91,000 people fully immunized with two doses.

The province moved fully into Step 2 of its reopening plan on Monday. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said any decisions on moving to Step 3 will be made on March 22 at the earliest.

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