Sweeping social restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. have been extended once again.
The restrictions, which prohibit gatherings between people who don't live in the same household, with minor exceptions for those who live alone, will now be in place until at least Feb. 5.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the extension of the rules during her live briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday afternoon.
"Now is our time to stay the course," Henry said during the announcement. "We know what we need to do to bend that curve back down. We have been successful in doing that prior to this winter break and we need to do that again."
The extension applies to all of the current public health officer orders, including bans on social gatherings in private homes and all events at public and private venues, as well as restrictions on sports and fitness activities, Henry said.
The provincial health officer did not directly address the prohibition on in-person services at churches and other houses of worship, though that ban is included in the orders being extended.
Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed faith leaders and communities directly in his remarks Thursday, thanking them for the advice they have provided throughout the pandemic and for the sacrifices they have been making by not meeting in person.
"We have been guided by your thoughts and your advice and your generosity and we don't want these orders to be in place one minute longer than necessary, but they are necessary now," he said.
Henry suggested that orders could be extended even further into the calendar, depending on the trend in new cases over the next few weeks.
"We are closely monitoring our progress and if further action is required, we will take that," she said. "If we see positive trends in our cases and our hospitalizations and we see a lessening in our impacts, we will monitor that as well. Right now, we need to hold the line."
On Thursday, Henry also announced 761 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 8 deaths.
The restrictions on gatherings were first introduced in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions on Nov. 7 for a two-week period.
On Nov. 19, they were extended for another two weeks and applied across the province.
But on Dec. 7, Henry gave the devastating blow that the orders would remain over the entire holiday season and last until at least Jan. 8.
During Thursday's announcement, Henry reiterated that most British Columbians have been following the public health orders since they were put in place, but she also offered some pointed words for those who decided to "make an exception for themselves" over the holidays.
"It may seem inconsequential," the public health officer said. "It may not have been done with an understanding of the impact it could have, but if 10,000 people - a few people in every town, every village or city in our province - make these small concessions for themselves, that increases all of our risk exponentially."
The coronavirus doesn't know that you haven't seen your friends in months or that it's your grandmother's birthday, Henry said, calling on British Columbians to reach out to friends and neighbours virtually to offer mental and emotional support and connection.
"It's compassion and understanding that we need now to get us through these dark days," she said.