On the final day of 2021, B.C. health officials hosted a COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning.
The year’s final update comes as the province’s case count continues to explode, driven by the Omicron variant.
“COVID-19 has proven to be a difficult burden,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday.
She said more than 9.5 million vaccine doses have been delivered in B.C., which has no doubt “saved lives” Henry added.
However, with the climbing case count, visitors to long-term care homes will be restricted to essential visitors only, starting Jan. 1.
This is due to the rise in cases and in an effort to keep staff and residents safe.
Henry said she will re-evaluate this decision on Jan. 18.
In addition, British Columbia will be fast-tracking booster shots for pregnant people and many essential workers, Henry added. Those who are pregnant can get a booster shot six months after their second dose.
The head of the province’s vaccination rollout, Dr. Penny Ballem, said everyone aged 60 and over is now eligible to receive a booster shot in B.C. six months after the second shot.
She said B.C. has provided 905,784 boosters so far.
Ballem added there are 720 locations providing vaccinations in B.C. There were 8,400 open spots available before the end of the day, Friday.
She said there are many people who have been invited for a booster shot who have not responded.
B.C. will also be moving to an interval-based process for booster shots. The goal now is to get everyone a booster six months after their second shot.
It will be based on local capacity, and Ballem said people should also look outside their communities for appointments if that is possible.
There are 800,000 people who have passed the six-month mark for their second dose. The priority is to invite this group first, Ballem added.
Henry also announced B.C. is reducing the isolation period for COVID-19 positive vaccinated people to five days if symptoms are gone. People will be required to wear masks for five additional days after isolation. Unvaccinated people must isolate for 10 days.
“It is time to think how do we support staff that are ill and stay home,” Henry said. “And how we have work continuity. Businesses should also focus on a work-from-home approach.”
Officials reported 4,383 confirmed new cases and one death on Thursday.Thursday’s update is nearly 50 per cent higher than the case count reported Wednesday, and likely a significant undercount, given the closure of multiple test sites in the hard-hit Lower Mainland due to frigid weather and because the province says it has maxed out its testing capacity.
The update also pushed the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in B.C. to over a quarter million for the first time.
There were at least 17,357 active cases in the province, also a new record.
New Year’s Eve will once again look a lot different this year, with bars and nightclubs closed across the province and restaurants restricted to six people at a table.
Indoor personal gatherings are still restricted to one household plus 10 others, or one additional household if everyone over 12 is vaccinated.
“It has been another tough year and yet through fires, floods, toxic drug crises, we have persevered,” Henry said.
“In the face of this uncertainty, let us all continue to be relentlessly kind.”