Nurses call for more access to PPE as new COVID-19 strain reaches B.C.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Nurses in B.C. are calling for more support for frontline workers as a new variant of COVID-19 is found in B.C.

The variant strain was detected by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control when monitoring travellers in B.C. who may have come from the U.K.

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, believes this new variant will compound staffing issues.

“Unfortunately, as we’re in the middle of what is the second wave in this province, and we’re already struggling with a staffing shortage in a nursing shortage, the concern that we have is that this places increased risk that more people will get infected,” she tells NEWS 1130.

However, Sorenson says it’s important to stay vigilant in following health guidelines and be able to accommodate changes as needed.

“What we don’t know yet is what this new variant will do, and how it will actually interact with people, and will they be sicker or will we just have so many more people infected that it will overwhelm our healthcare system.”

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So far, there is no evidence this new strain is any more deadly or any less resistant to the vaccines currently being rolled out across Canada.

Sorensen admits, although the science is still out on a lot about the new strain, she does feel more needs to be done to keep staff safe.

“With this new variant, which we are now hearing may be more infectious than the current COVID situation, that we’ve been exposed to, I have growing concerns that nurses and other healthcare workers will be placed at increased risk.”

The more immediate concern for workers dealing with the possibility of a more transmissible strain is to have easier access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

“I do encourage people to go get tested, but I also encourage the government to please be mindful that we don’t know everything about this virus, and nurses have been asking for access to appropriate personal protective equipment throughout this pandemic and we still continue to struggle to be given the equipment that we believe we need to keep us safe,” Christine Sorensen says.

As of Monday, there are four cases of the new strain confirmed in Canada: one on Vancouver Island, two east of Toronto and one in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Public Health Department said the patient is self-isolating, adding they had recently travelled from the U.K. However, they gave no timeline as to when they arrived back in the country.

Ontario health officials also report the first two people confirmed with the variant strain, a couple in Durham Region, had indeed been in contact with a recent traveler from the U.K.

There’s no word yet on if travel restrictions between Canada and the U.K will be extended beyond the current date of January 6.

-With Files from Bethlehem Mariam and Lisa Steacy

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