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Opinion: COVID-19 ‘variants’ have Burnaby shoppers panic-buying - again

'We're loading up,' to prepare for another possible lockdown
A looooooong lineup at the Burnaby Costco on Brighton.

Here we go again.

Just as COVID-19 cases are dropping and there’s talk about expanding to a ‘safe six’ again, a new wrinkle has people freaked out.

And I can’t say I blame them.

Mutations of COVID-19 are known to spread more quickly, but doctors say they do not seem to cause more severe illness, interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines or affect testing for the virus.

But that news hasn’t calmed down Burnaby residents who are once again changing their habits to deal with their anxiety.

I mean there are still covidiots who are out partying in Burnaby, like the dude who decided to throw a crowded basement party with nobody wearing masks because he thought hand-washing was enough (enjoy that $2,300 fine, dummy).

Many others, however, are paying attention and being more cautions. They’re also panic-buying again. I gleaned this from speaking with more than 20 people Friday night at three different Burnaby stores.

The most obvious was at the Costco on Brighton in Burnaby. I had a lot of time to talk with people because the line of more than 100 people snaked all around the parking lot on a frigid night. (Costco is trying to limit how many people are in the store at any given time, so good for them. Other stores have not been as vigilant.)

People told me they weren’t just stocking up on Super Bowl snacks.

”I fully expect another lockdown to happen once these variants spread,” Todd told me. “Not enough people are listening and they’re going to ruin everything. Might as well be ready so we're loading up.”

My partner feels the same way. She has no faith in the public doing the right thing so she’s stocking up on all sorts of stuff so we don’t have to go out again for at least a month.

As for what the officials are saying, British Columbians could expand their social bubble to their ‘safe six’ by the end of February, said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry Friday, but easing restrictions will all depend on the trajectory of COVID-19 transmissions. 

And with new variants doubling in the last week, Henry said any explosion in cases would sink such hopes. 

“I’m not putting an end to the orders we have now,” she said at a Feb. 5 press conference. “I don’t want people to start thinking about, ‘Yeah, we’re out of this, we’re back to normal.’”

To date, 28 cases across the province have been identified as 'variants of concern.’ That includes 14 cases of the U.K. variant linked to people with a history of travel to the U.K, Ireland and Dubai, among other countries. Another five have been associated to close contacts with a history of travel. 

The U.K. variant, or B.1.1.7, is a highly contagious form of the coronavirus that can spread at least 50% faster than the current predominant strain in B.C.

But when it comes to the South African variant, or B.1.351, data coming out in the last week suggests it causes more severe illness, something Henry said “is worrisome.”

“If we start to see one of these variants take off, all bets are off,” she said.

Across B.C., public health is working to ramp up its surveillance of the new variants, a plan which looks to establish a system of markers that would flag positive COVID-19 tests and target samples for full genome sequencing.

Henry said laboratories are looking to screen thousands of samples per week, up from roughly 750 conducted now and eventually covering every molecular test in the province. 

At the same time, Henry said B.C.’s capacity for full genome sequencing will also be increased, and public health workers will be moving to target suspect outbreaks, whether in schools or surrounding recent travel. 

For example, while close contacts aren’t usually tested until symptoms develop, that will change with the targeted testing of certain outbreaks involving a highly contagious variant. 

This could get really bad really quick. Want things to improve, then follow the protocols.

  • With files from the Canadian Press and Stefan Labbe, Tri-City News

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.