VANCOUVER -- After B.C.’s provincial health officer said anyone contracting COVID-19 should assume they have one of the variants, she and other experts say any interactions people had safely before this third wave may now be a higher risk.

On Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry outlined how variants have spread across the province, particularly the P1 variant first detected in Brazil and the B117 from the U.K. She says the province will no longer do more intensive genome sequencing to confirm if a sample screening positive for a variant and instead will focus on finding other variants and to determine how they respond to immunization.

"We just assume that that those screen positives will be the variants, we assume that anybody who is positive with it for COVID-19 needs to be treated as if they have one of these highly transmissible viruses," Dr. Henry announced in a briefing Thursday.

She added the increase in cases was partly driven by social interactions, sometimes with different groups on different days. The variants are more transmissible than the original, dominant strain of COVID-19 in British Columbia.

"These gatherings with different people in different places on different days are fueling the spread of the virus that we're seeing. And these variants of concern, are making that, that much more easy."

She called on the public to abide by the public health orders. Having friends or family over, a weekend getaway or a wedding or birthday should all be off limits, Dr. Henry said.

The concern is being echoed by the medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre.

In an interview with CTV News, Dr. Brian Conway said while most people were good most of the time, it’s now the time to recognize the risk and abide by orders that limit social gatherings inside a household to just those you live with, or in the case of single people living alone, the same 1 or 2 people inside their bubble.

"Each time you kind of break the rules a little bit, each time you don’t put on a mask when you possibly should for a couple of minutes, it could lead to a transmission. That’s the new reality," he said.

He also noted younger people can become severely ill with the variants, and that’s concerning given that about a third of COVID-19 patients are long-haulers and develop ongoing symptoms. Right now, he says it’s unclear if the variants differ in that regard versus the strain of COVID-19 we’ve seen in B.C. so far.

"And if you’re younger long-haul symptoms are now decades not years."

In Quebec City, Dr. Andre Dontingy, the city’s Director of Public Health says variant cases make up 70 per cent of cases and are so rampant, he’s calling it a new pandemic, adding what’s ahead is more uncertainty.

That’s partly why Dr. Conway takes issue with the province moving away from the more detailed sequencing. He believes it may mean less access to what could be valuable information, particularly when it comes to human behaviour.

"If people really did think they were following all the rules and they have the variant, it is likely something they were doing in their day to day lives that isn’t safe."