VICTORIA -- Vancouver Island's top doctor says COVID-19 variant cases are growing exponentially in the region.

Island Health’s chief medical health officer says the number of highly infectious variant strains in the region has grown at least threefold in the past two to three weeks.

“The virus keeps showing us new tricks,” Dr. Richard Stanwick told CFAX 1070 on Tuesday. “It’s just not the same enemy that we started with.”

Stanwick said travellers between the island and the Lower Mainland are largely responsible for the surge of variant cases in the Island Health region, especially over spring break.

“During the spring break we saw lots of travel,” Stanwick said. “People sort of just let their guard down.”

On Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said younger British Columbians were to blame for the bulk of recent COVID-19 transmissions in the province.

"The cohort from 20 to 39 (years old) are not paying as much attention to these broadcasts and are putting us all at risk," Horgan said.

"Do not blow this for the rest of us," he added.

On Tuesday, Stanwick said British Columbians in their 20s are “the lowest risk group and probably one of the most frustrated” by the virus and its impacts on their social and economic life.

“They’re hard hit by these measures and they don’t see a lot of benefit themselves,” Stanwick said, noting that people in this age group have seen their education, employment and important social development disrupted more than anyone else.

“(It’s) well beyond the threat of the virus to the threat of their normal development,” Stanwick said, urging all British Columbians to keep social interactions as low as possible while the vaccine rollout continues in the province.

Stanwick said this point in the pandemic is “absolutely” the hardest time for many British Columbians as the province enters a new round of social restrictions while immunizations slowly move forward.

“We have a vaccine, we need to basically have the time to get it into people’s arms,” he said.