VICTORIA, B.C. – Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke at a conference on Friday to give British Columbians guidance on the Omicron variant during the holiday season, urging everyone to keep gatherings small or avoid them altogether.

“Some parts of it we know more about, we’re putting that puzzle together globally,” Said Dr. Henry. “It is more highly infectious than any of the other strains of this virus that we’ve seen.”

Dr. Henry says there is more data to suggest the Omicron variant can infect fully vaccinated people, but they tend to be less severe. She added that people who have had previous infections are more likely to be infected by the Omicron variant.

“Earlier this week, I mentioned that all of us would likely be exposed to this virus to Omicron, knowing the way it was spreading in our communities. But this does not mean that all of us will get sick or will get severely sick.”

Henry says this Omicron variant is more likely to attach to the upper airways, which means it can spread with smaller amounts of the virus.

“With this Omicron variant…the incubation period, or the time between exposure and getting sick yourself and being able to pass it on to others is very small. What we’re usually seeing in five to seven days on average is now down to around two or three days.”

Due to the speed of transmission at this stage, Dr. Henry says contact tracing is unable to keep up.

“In addition, our testing centres are at maximum capacity. We did over 20,000 PCR tests yesterday, and that’s the maximum that we can do. So I want to be very clear, do not go to a testing centre unless you have symptoms. We need to preserve the more accurate PCR testing for those who really need it.”

Dr. Henry says these testing centres are to confirm that someone with symptoms has COVID-19 or to rule it out for key workers like healthcare workers and emergency responders who need to be able to go to work.