Last call will be earlier than usual New Year's Eve, as B.C. halts liquor sales at 8 p.m.

All liquor sales in B.C. will stop at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve under a new one-day order from the provincial health officer aimed at preventing late-night parties and other gatherings that could spread COVID-19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the order applies to bars, restaurants and retail outlets — including grocery stores — and will expire at 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

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“The purpose is to decrease the consumption of alcohol that leads to what we know can be risky behavior, including gatherings and parties that we have seen in the past have led to increased transmission of this virus,” she said.

Henry said the order should still allow restaurants to have two seatings with alcohol service. “The second seating generally happens around 7 to 7:30, so this does give the opportunity for people to order wine or whatever with their meal.”

But restaurant owners expressed disappointment at the late notice and lack of consultation.

“We’re very surprised that it was left to the 11th hour or 11th minute,” said Shellie Gudgeon, owner of Il Terrazzo restaurant. “Having said that, we’ll obviously abide by it, as we’ve done throughout the pandemic.”

She said the change will have a “huge” impact on business, however. “Typically, the bigger spenders come out later in the evening … and obviously this will impact them.”

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he has already heard from restaurants that received cancellations following Henry’s announcement.

“We all knew that New Year’s Eve was tomorrow and we could have actually worked with Dr. Henry as an industry and delivered a situation that I think would have been much more accommodating and made more sense and still achieve the important health outcomes that we need,” he said Wednesday. “But it just came out of the middle of nowhere.”

Now, Tostenson said, businesses that were barely holding on will have to absorb another blow. “You’ve got restaurants that have purchased alcohol, party favours, special foods, and most of them are going to lose their second seating.”

Asked about the late notice, Henry said officials had been considering the order “for some time” while monitoring the COVID-19 case numbers and the types of events that were occurring.

“It really was a discussion with my colleagues, with our team,” she said Wednesday. “We felt, given what we were hearing and seeing about what was planned for tomorrow night, and what we saw over this past weekend, that it was prudent for us to take some action.”

There were 485 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths reported in B.C. from Tuesday to Wednesday. Of the new cases, 16 were in the Island Health region, 211 in Fraser Health, 57 in Interior Health, 84 in Northern Health and 117 in Vancouver Coastal Health.

There are 379 people in hospital in B.C., 77 of whom are in intensive or critical care units.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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