Manitoba working with NHL to see games in Winnipeg amid coronavirus: health officials

Manitoba health officials said Thursday the province is working toward granting NHL permission to play games in Winnipeg this season. Provided: True North Sports and Entertainment

Health officials in Manitoba say the government is working toward granting the NHL approval to host games in Winnipeg for the upcoming season.

The latest update from Manitoba comes as Alberta confirmed to the Canadian Press Thursday that it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25 following the review of protocols outlined in the league’s return-to-play plan, along with some additional enhancements.

Alberta is the first of the five provinces with NHL teams to confirm its approval since deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated on Dec. 24 that the league believes it can play games in all seven Canadian markets.

At a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, said discussions between the league and the government concerning hosting games in Winnipeg are ongoing.

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At this point, you know, work is being done on that,” Atwal said.

The NHL has said franchises north of the 49th parallel will only play each other during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs as part of a newly-formed North Division, and won’t be crossing the border with the United States, which remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Daly’s Dec. 24 statement came after TSN and Sportsnet reported Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, sent a note to the league on behalf of the provinces asking for increased testing or a return to a scenario in which all teams would be in a secure zone in one city, like the NHL did this summer in Edmonton and Toronto.

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Atwal has confirmed Manitoba was a signatory on the joint letter to the league, and on Thursday said provincial health officials are now working out the details, including changes to public health orders, that would allow the season to go ahead in Winnipeg.

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“We’re working towards a resumption of the NHL season,” he said.

“There is some still some paperwork, and some procedural steps that have to take place. But, you know, from a public health perspective, it is a solid plan.”

In a separate statement Thursday, the federal government said it has issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and team staff returning to Canada for training camps under “national interest grounds.”

Daly said in an email to The Canadian Press that modified quarantine procedures for players and team staff entering the country are determined by provincial health authorities.

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“Modified quarantine means different things in different markets,” Daly’s email read.

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However, the provinces with NHL franchises must give their approval for games to be played between Canadian teams during the regular season, which is scheduled to start Jan. 13.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said the league’s plan for training camps offers “robust measures to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada.” It added all provinces with NHL clubs have provided written support for the plan.

The Public Health Agency of Canada statement said all teams must operate within provincial rules for regular-season play.

The Ottawa Senators were one of seven clubs across the 31-team league to begin training camp Thursday after not qualifying for the summer post-season as part of the resumption of the pandemic-halted 2019-20 campaign. The other six Canadian teams are slated to open training camp Sunday or Monday.

–With files from the Canadian Press

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