British Columbia health officials reported 683 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths in their final briefing of 2020.
In a Thursday press briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province’s pandemic death toll has risen to 901 for the year.
Most of the new cases were in the Fraser Health region (447) and Vancouver Coastal Health region (105).
Eleven were on Vancouver Island, 64 were in the Interior Health Region and 36 were in the Northern Health region.
The province conducted 8,003 tests in the past 24 hours, and the seven-day moving average for test positivity sat at 8.8 per cent.
Henry urged British Columbians to spend New Year’s Eve at home and to connect virtually with friends and family.
“We have been trending in the right direction for the past few weeks, although the increase today reminds us that we are still in a very precarious position,” she said.
“We can only look around us — whether it’s other jurisdictions in Canada, around the world, our partners to the south — where we see this virus continues to wreak havoc and cause illness and death.”
She also responded to criticism around a new public health order banning the sale of liquor after 8 p.m. on Thursday night.
Restaurateurs say the announcement, which came Wednesday, was last minute and without warning — leaving them on the hook for product and staffing they’d already arranged.
“We’ve been obviously signaling for some time about the issues around New Year’s Eve and around the holiday season, so I don’t think this came out of the blue in that respect,” Henry said.
The Alliance of Beverage Licencees told Global News Wednesday that it had been given no indication of the plan, and had in fact learned about it from the media.
Henry said the decision came after she heard about several planned events involving “hundreds” of attendees, along with concerns from people working in the industry that the would be unable to manage the situation.
“The issue really is that later in the evening, when people are drinking a fair amount, we tend to see groups getting together and it to be very difficult to maintain the COVID safety plans,” she said, adding that food service is still permitted after the 8 p.m. cutoff.
The province has administered at least one dose of Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to 17,510 people, including some residents of remote First Nations communities.
Immunization clinics will be active in all B.C. health authorities by Friday, Henry added.
There were 7,803 known active cases of COVID-19, while an additional 9,364 people were isolating due to exposure to the virus.
The province is also not ruling out extensions on current restrictions or the imposition of new restrictions, Henry said.
“It will depend on what we see in the next little while,” she said, referring to a possible spike in new cases related to the holidays.
“We will be looking at where are the situations where we are seeing transmission, what is the impact of what has happened last weekend and of course tonight and going into this weekend.”
There were 374 people in hospital with COVID-19, 76 of them in critical or intensive care, Thursday.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said base hospital capacity was at 84.8 per cent, or 66.7 per cent with surge capacity added. The provinces ICUs were at 74.7 per cent capacity, or 51 capacity with surge beds added.
“We have capacity, and this is to a degree the difference between B.C. on the acute care side and other jurisdictions, is we continue to have substantial capacity to do that,” he said.
“That said, everyone working in acute care is dealing with an extraordinary situation.”
There were new healthcare outbreaks at Ridge Meadows Hospital, the Langley Memorial Hospital and the Williams Lake Seniors’ Village.
In total, 52 long-term care or assisted-living facilities and nine acute care facilities have active outbreaks.
About 81 per cent of B.C.’s 51,983 total cases have recovered.