(Dr. Bonnie Henry/Photo by Colin Smith Takes Pics)

With 2021 coming to an end, BC health officials provided one last COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning.

With the climbing case count driven by the Omicron variant, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer announced visitors to long-term care homes will be restricted to essential visitors only, starting January 1st.

Henry said this restriction has been put in place in an effort to keep staff and residents safe and will be re-evaluated on January 18th.

“We need to decrease the numbers of people coming into our long-term care home so we can best protect the seniors and elders in our care homes and ensure that workers in those settings are able to manage and cope,” Henry said.

In addition to the above announcement, the province will be fast-tracking booster shots for pregnant women and many essential workers.

Pregnant women can get a booster shot six months after their second dose and will need to call in to book their appointment.

Dr. Penny Ballem, BC’s head of vaccination roll-out, was a part of the press conference today and announced everyone aged 60 and over are now eligible to receive a booster shot six months after the second shot.

To date, 905,784 residents of BC have received their booster shot.

During the press conference Henry also announced changes to the isolation rules in BC. The province 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 still isolate for 10 days.

With more than 9.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in BC so far, officials said the booster dose program will be accelerated to combat the province’s ongoing surge in Omicron cases.

Previously, people would be contacted for their booster six to eight months after their second dose; this has now been changed to 6 months after.

Currently, more than 350 pharmacies across 80 communities in BC are administering vaccines.

Come mid-January, approximately 700 additional pharmacies are expected to join, administering the majority of booster shots for everyone eligible through the Get Vaccinated registration and booking system.

As of this publication, there are now 17,400 active cases in the province. On Thursday, officials reported 4,383 confirmed new cases.