Virus

Almost 2,000 non-urgent scheduled surgeries will be cancelled at Lower Mainland hospitals during the next two weeks to deal with rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19. The virus that causes the disease is shown in this image from an electron microscope.

An "alarming" rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations underscores the need for British Columbians to obey travel bans that come into force on Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.

Across B.C., 502 people are now being treated in hospital for the disease, 161 of whom are in intensive care.

On March 21, 303 people were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals across the province.

"The number of hospitalizations and people in intensive care units continues to be alarming and to rise," Henry said Thursday. "The pressure on our healthcare system is immense right now."

To free up space in hospitals and give tired medical staff a break, non-urgent scheduled surgeries that were booked for the next two weeks will be postponed at nine hospitals in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions.

Approximately 750 surgeries will be cancelled in Fraser Health, and 1,000 cases will be cancelled in Vancouver Coastal Health.

"This news is obviously disappointing for some patients and their families," Health Minister Adrian Dix said. "As soon as we are able to do so, we will call you again, and re-book you for your surgery."

In addition to cancelling non-urgent scheduled surgeries, hospitals are looking to bolster their staff through redeployment of other employees in the health care system, Dix said.

"Lower Mainland health authorities are asking staff who are specially trained in critical care and currently working in community settings to return to hospital ICUs on a voluntary basis," Dix said.

"Our critical care and ICU staff are tired," Dix said. "It has been a long, long year and they need some relief."

Across B.C., 1,006 people tested positive for COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday. Of those newly-infected, 83 were in the Interior Health region.

Police-enforced bans on non-essential travel bans between the province's five health regions take effect on Friday.

"We have asked for these additional actions because we know that, right now, with the transmission rates we are having, travel will spread the virus further," Henry said.

"Staying within our local communities means we are not going to and from COVID-19 hotspots, and inadvertently bringing the virus along with us," Henry said.

A total of 1.5 million British Columbians have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.