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NHL bans business travel outside North America amid coronavirus outbreak

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The NHL has banned its employees from business travel outside North America in response to the widening new coronavirus outbreak.

And if an individual ends up in a location affected by COVID-19 on their own, the league is mandating a two-week quarantine before that person can return to work.

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Speaking at the conclusion of the NHL general managers meetings Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL is “aware of and focused on all possibilities” as it continues to monitor the fast-moving situation.

“If (league employees) go to a place that’s on the list of countries that have an issue, or while you’re there, that country comes on the list and then when you come back, we want you quarantined, out of the office for two weeks until we can see if symptoms develop,” Bettman said.

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He added it’s currently up to individual teams to decide on their own travel protocols.

“The clubs know that’s what we’re doing,” Bettman said. “They’ve been advised. They’re free to adopt as much or little of that policy, at least for the time being, as possible.”

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Bettman added the NHL has been in communication with both the Centers for Disease Control in the United States and Health Canada, and in regular contact with all 31 of its franchises.

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The commissioner described the situation as “day-to-day” as the virus continues to spread around the world, but declined to speculate about the potential of having to hold games in empty arenas or postponing the playoffs.

“At this point, it would be premature to pick any one of the possibilities, especially because it may or may not become necessary in North America,” Bettman said at the swanky Boca Beach Club on Florida’s Atlantic coast. “We’re staying current, we’re staying in communication with everyone appropriate, and we’ll deal with it if and when the time comes.”

Could Calgary events be cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak?
Could Calgary events be cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak?

The NBA has told its players to stop high-fiving basketball fans and strangers, and avoid taking items for autographs, but Bettman said the NHL hasn’t issued a similar directive.

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Switzerland’s top hockey league postponed its playoffs until the middle of March, while a number of sporting events around the globe have been cancelled as countries struggle to contain the outbreak.

“We’re aware of what’s happening in other places in the world and we understand that things may evolve or change,” Bettman said. “We also understand that we’re going to have to react to it in a professional and timely and sensible basis.

“But I don’t think as we sit here today, people should get too far ahead of themselves.”

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said coronavirus was discussed at length during the annual meetings, adding that his team has made some alterations to travel plans for its European scouts.

“You’ve got to take the leadership for your staff and make sure you’re not putting them in tough situations,” Treliving said. “But for right now it’s business as usual until you find out otherwise.”

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As of Wednesday, there had been more than 94,000 confirmed cases of people contracting the virus around the world, including more than 3,200 deaths.

Canada currently has reported 33 cases, while Washington state has a total of nine deaths.

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“We’re going to continue to monitor things,” Bettman said. “We’re going to keep everybody completely informed.”

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the CDC and Health Canada don’t generally mandate or dictate what course of action needs to be taken in situations like the coronavirus outbreak.

“They make recommendations,” he said. “But they are the experts in the field, so you tend to follow their recommendations.”