VICTORIA -- Health officials identified 69 new cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Island region Thursday.

The new cases were among a record-breaking 1,293 cases found across the province over the past 24 hours, bringing B.C.’s total to 108,278 cases since the pandemic began.

Two more people have died of the virus, health officials announced Thursday, bringing the province's death toll to 1,493. One of the deaths was in the Vancouver region and the other was in the Interior, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

The Vancouver Island region has now recorded 3,818 cases of COVID-19 and 31 deaths since the pandemic began.

There are currently 566 active cases of COVID-19 in the island region, including 21 people in hospital and seven in critical care.

Island Health revealed the locations of 486 active cases in the region Thursday, including 261 in the South Island, 194 in the Central Island and 31 in the North Island.

Approximately 985,001 vaccine doses have now been administered in the province, Dix said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spent much of Thursday’s news conference discussing the surge of COVID-19 variant cases in the province.

Henry stressed that public health and safety measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission remain the same for all strains of the coronavirus, including the variants of concern.

Henry said the B.1.1.7 strain has largely replaced the original coronavirus strain in recent cases in the province. The strain was first detected in Britain in September.

“We don’t need to test so much anymore to understand if we have the U.K. strain here because it is here,” Henry said. “And it is increasing and it is causing more transmission in communities around the province.”

The provincial health officer said the province is now assuming that all positive COVID-19 tests in B.C. are highly infectious variant cases and will treat all new cases as such.

New workplace closure order

Henry issued a new public health order Thursday for workplaces where COVID-19 transmission has occurred.

The order means that if three or more workers are infected with COVID-19 at a workplace, public health officials will have the power to close down the workplace for “10 days or longer,” Henry said.

“WorkSafeBC will now be able to support the work of public health and serve the closure notice and work with the workplace to review and enhance their safety plans,” Henry said.

“We recognize of course there are many workplaces that cannot be closed,” Henry added, singling out police stations, fire halls and grocery stores. Henry said those workplaces would be supported by health officials to remain open safely but did not specify exactly how. 

The health minister said the new order comes into effect Sunday at midnight and the ministry will meet with business groups to discuss the plan in the meantime.

“We’ll be working with businesses over the next couple of days to let them know both the effect of the order and the fact that we believe this targeted approach will help them deal with transmission of COVID-19,” Dix said.

The workplace order will not apply to schools, Henry said.