VICTORIA — Health officials in British Columbia are cutting off alcohol sales on New Year’s Eve in an effort to prevent gatherings where COVID-19 can spread.
Last call for alcohol will be at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and the ban continues until 9 a.m. the next day, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday.
“The purpose is to decrease the late-night consumption of alcohol that leads to what we know can be risky behaviour,” she said.
The latest health order restricts the sale of alcohol at restaurants, pubs and stores during those hours.
Henry says the order is an attempt to curb parties from springing up, particularly in resort towns where New Year’s Eve celebrations are common.
“Often, from a public health perspective, that is fuelled by people indulging a bit too much in alcohol,” she said.
B.C. reported 485 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 11 additional deaths.
Despite the last-minute nature of the order, Henry said officials have been discussing this for some time.
“We felt — given what we were hearing and seeing about what was planned for tomorrow night, what we saw over the past weekend — it was prudent for us to take some action,” she said.
Henry added that the order tries to help restaurants by allowing alcohol sales during part of the night instead of a blanket ban.
Restaurants have done a good job following the orders as they have developed, Henry said, adding problems begin when there is extra consumption of alcohol later in the evening.
Ian Tostenson, the president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, said his group is “profoundly disappointed” by the timing of the new health order.
“We got to do what we got to do from a health perspective, but what I don’t understand is that there was absolutely zero consultation,” he said. “We all knew New Year’s was coming.”
Tostenson said the order is one more hit the industry has had to endure this year.
“I think this will push people over the edge,” he said. “I think a lot of restaurants won’t have enough financial power to get through to the spring.”
The Vancouver Police Department issued its own safety guidelines on Wednesday, recommending people not go out past 10 p.m. unless with immediate family or members of their household.
More police will also be deployed to the Gastown and the Granville entertainment districts to monitor behaviour, police said.
The Fraser Health authority has also declared COVID-19 outbreaks at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cedar Hill residence long-term care centre at Langley Memorial Hospital.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix reported that the first doses of the Moderna vaccine have arrived in 10 remote or isolated Indigenous communities and will be administered over the coming days.
Just over 14,000 people have been vaccinated across the province so far.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2020.
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