VANCOUVER -- B.C. health officials are cutting off liquor sales early on New Year's Eve in an attempt to discourage people from partying and potentially spreading COVID-19.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Wednesday that she's issuing a temporary order barring booze sales from 8 p.m. on Dec. 31 until 9 a.m. on Jan. 1.

"That applies to restaurants, pubs and stores, including grocery stores where liquor sales are done," Henry told reporters in a teleconference.

"The purpose is to decrease the late-night consumption of alcohol that leads to what we know can be risky behaviour, including gatherings and parties."

Health officials said they're especially concerned about resort communities, where they have seen "parties develop, sometimes spontaneously" after people have been drinking heavily.

The province is not trying to discourage people from dining out at restaurants on New Year's Eve – that is still allowed, provided people only dine with members of their household. The existing rule limiting tables to a maximum of six people also remains in effect.

"I am absolutely comfortable with people dining out in restaurants that have a strong safety plan, and most of them in the province do," said Henry, who added that she dines out at a "number of restaurants."

The primary concern is that some people's "inhibitions go out the window" while drinking, the provincial health officer said, which makes them more likely to mingle and seek in-person interactions.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix also stressed that people celebrating New Year's Eve at home should only be doing so with members of their own household.

While the province's seven-day average for COVID-19 cases has been dropping in recent weeks, health officials cautioned that they have seen relatively low testing rates over the holidays. They believe that's due in part to people being "reluctant to be tested over the holiday period," Henry said.