Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after  a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. Provincewide COVID-19 restrictions are supposed to be lifted in British Columbia today, but there are indications that health officials will be extending limits on events, sports and social gatherings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after  a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. Provincewide COVID-19 restrictions are supposed to be lifted in British Columbia today, but there are indications that health officials will be extending limits on events, sports and social gatherings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - COVID-19 restrictions in British Columbia have been extended to Jan. 8 as the transmission and community spread of the illness remain high, the province's top doctor said Monday.

Holidays including Christmas and Hanukkah will look different for many this year as hosting or visiting people from different households is prohibited with very few exceptions, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"We don't want to be exposing our loved ones to the virus," she said, because social interactions, even small ones, continue to drive transmission in B.C.

The rules that were set to expire after two weeks have had an impact on case numbers, she said, but B.C. has not yet reached a point where the restrictions can be loosened.

"We cannot, cannot afford, when we're this close to being able to protect people, to have a surge of cases early in the new year that would again test and strain our health-care system and put people at risk."

The ongoing restrictions will save lives, said Henry, after announcing another 35 people have died, pushing the death toll in B.C. to 527.

There were 2,020 new cases of the illness detected between Friday and Monday, including 1,362 in the hard-hit Fraser Health region. Henry said the Interior and Northern health regions are also recording increases.

B.C. has confirmed 9,380 active infections.

The province's COVID-19 restrictions were updated last week to suspend indoor and outdoor sports for people 19 and over, while high-intensity group fitness, such as interval training, hot yoga and spin classes, are also paused.

Worship services and community events remain suspended, although the latest order includes an exception for drive-thru events like festivals of light, drop-off toy drives and drive-thru events that are capped at 50 people who must be from the same household and remain in their cars.

The encouraging news, said Henry, is that the people who are most at risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 should soon receive a vaccine.

B.C. is set to receive its first doses of Pfizer's vaccine next week, said Henry, adding she hopes Health Canada will soon approve its use.

"We'll be ready to put immunization into people's arms as soon as we can. We are not going to have enough in the first few months that it's going to make a difference in community transmission, so that's why we all have to be continuing to follow our COVID safety plans."

The first doses will go to health-care workers and elders living in long-term care, said Henry, while provincial officials are set to provide more information about the rollout of the vaccine in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.