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Henry defends early last call on NYE, says B.C.'s COVID-19 situation 'precarious'

Last Updated Dec 31, 2020 at 5:13 pm PST

FILE - Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (Courtesy Government of B.C., Flickr)

B.C recorded eight more deaths, 683 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 31

Dr. Bonnie Henry defended a new health order prohibiting sale, service of alcohol after 8 p.m.

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C. health officials warned that the province is in a precarious position when it comes to containing COVID-19, clarifying why they are ordering an early last call on New Year’s Eve during their last update of 2020.

The number of lives lost during the pandemic rose to 901 Thursday, with eight more deaths being reported.

With 683 new cases recorded, Dr. Bonnie Henry stressed the critical need to celebrate New Year’s Eve safely.

“We have been trending in the right direction for the last few weeks, although the increase today reminds us that we are still in a very precarious situation, and we can only look around us — whether it’s other jurisdictions here in Canada, around the world, our neighbours to the South — where we see this virus continues to wreak havoc, and to cause illness and death,” she said.

“As the new year brings a fresh start for all of us, we must start 2021 in the right space on the right foot. The only way we can get there is for all of us to continue to stay small and stay local — particularly for New Year’s Eve celebrations tonight.”

RELATED: Hospitality industry shocked by short notice of New Year’s Eve liquor sale cut-off

The ban on selling and serving alcohol after 8 p.m. was announced just over 24 hours before it would come into effect, leaving many in the food service and hospitality industry reeling as they coped with cancelled reservations and anticipated a major hit to revenue. The order expires Jan. 1, at which point last call will go back to being 10 p.m.

But Henry said she made the decision after hearing about events being planned where hundreds were expected to attend, and from concerned workers.

“The rationale behind this step is simple. Alcohol, as we know, and it has we have seen far too many times this year, limits our inhibitions. What can begin as a quiet dinner with our household or drink with a friend can to easily get out of control and sadly we have seen that happen even in the past few weeks. When that happens, rules can be forgotten, and servers and restaurant staff are the ones who must enforce these rules for the safety of everyone, including the staff,” she said.

“I’ve heard from many who work in restaurants and bars, who were worried about their ability to manage those situations — particularly on a night like tonight. I recognize absolutely that these restrictions are yet another challenge the restaurant and the food service industry has had to face in what has already been a very tough year, but two hours now is necessary for us to manage a situation that is going to be lasting for many more weeks.”

She added B.C. has kept restaurants open while other provinces have ordered them to close for all but take-out and delivery, and her hope is this temporary change will allow the doors to remain open.

Health Minister Adrian Dix detailed some statistics to underscore the importance of following provincial health orders.

“Ninety-four people have passed away from COVID-19 since Christmas Eve, that we have a significant number of cases, that we have 374 people in hospital, and we really need people to dig in right now,” he said.

“Following provincial health orders, it’s my expectation that everyone will do that, absolutely everyone will do that because it’s important to do it right now to begin to reduce the number of cases. And in particular, reduce the situation for people who are most vulnerable people in long term care and others who obviously are facing even more risks.”

Of those in hospital, 76 are in critical care or the ICU. Outbreaks persist at 52 long-term or acute care facilities where 1,412 residents and 723 staff are currently infected.

Dix and Henry also offered an update on vaccinations, and said 17510 people have received a dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

The next scheduled update on Jan. 4 will offer details on the province’s vaccine rollout plan.