COVID modelling report says Delta variant lurking as B.C. reopens

The report said the province’s Phase 3 reopening on July 1 ‘leaves the future trajectory of Delta wide open’

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B.C. is doing well when it comes to declining COVID-19 numbers, but a reluctance to share data is hurting world-wide efforts to beat the pandemic, a member of an independent COVID-19 modelling group said Wednesday.


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Sarah Otto, a professor at the University of B.C. who specializes in mathematical modelling, said as the province reopens, the spread of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has to be watched closely.

“We’re in a great place in B.C., and you can see that with the declining case numbers,” she said. “The issue going forward with the Phase 3 reopening is to stay in such a great place.”

She compared the Delta variant to a racehorse.

“You have this one that’s really speedy and chomping at the bit and we’ve just opened the gates,” she said. “That’s what worried us: What’s going to happen with Delta in the future?”

Since being identified in late 2020, the Delta variant has spread to more than 80 countries. It is a mutation in the spike protein the virus uses to enter cells in a body.


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The World Health Organization considers it 55 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was 50 per cent more transmissible than the original coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, an interdisciplinary group of academics, researchers and experts, released its sixth report on the status of COVID-19 in B.C.

Data shows that areas with higher vaccination rates have “significantly lower daily case counts,” the report said. “Increasing vaccination coverage from 70 per cent to 83 per cent halves the average case count.”

The report said the province’s Phase 3 reopening on July 1 “leaves the future trajectory of Delta wide open.

“Increased transmission risks must be balanced by increasing vaccination to keep Delta numbers stable.”


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The number of the Delta cases relative to other variants is likely to increase with the growth in contacts between people during Phase 3.

”Rising cases may not be followed by rises in hospitalizations, due to strong efficacy of vaccines against severe COVID-19,” the report said.

The report points out that Israel, where 65 per cent of people have one dose and 60 per cent have had two, has had to re-impose wearing masks indoors because of rising Delta cases.

“Countries with high vaccination levels are seeing upticks in cases and have slowed reopening due to Delta.”

The report said that the modelling group has repeatedly had trouble getting accurate and updated data on variants of concern from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Since May, for example, all cases have been genetically sequenced but not publicly available.


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“Data inconsistencies in the reporting of variants of concern have hampered external modelling and have contributed to substantial uncertainty in their spread over time, with their extent regularly under-estimated in the past six months,” the report said.

Otto said in an interview while the control of information may be motivated by protecting people’s privacy, “sometimes it feels like they are protecting the privacy of the virus.”

She said the fight against COVID-19 isn’t about limiting the analysis of data to within the provincial government, but recognizing that B.C. is part of a world-wide effort to figure out SARS-CoV-2.

“With a virus that we knew almost nothing about, we need all hands on deck,” she said. “We’re learning so much because everybody across the world is pooling their data.”

She said the lack of data accessibility and sharing in B.C. has been an issue since at least the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which was caused by a coronavirus.

She said it feels as if B.C. is behind a sea-change in being open when it comes to government health data.

“It does make me sad,” she said. “I think we could have learned more. We could have been more of a leader in figuring out what was happening earlier on had more data been released.”



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