TORONTO (AP) - A top Canadian government health official credits the Blue Jays for their willingness to live in a quarantine environment while they host games in Toronto but said Friday problems remain with Major League Baseball’s proposed plan to play in Canada amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, said the federal government is still looking very closely at the proposals by MLB and the Blue Jays. The team has been given clearance by Ontario and Toronto to play regular-season games in Rogers Centre and awaits approval from Canada’s federal government.
MLB needs an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must self-isolate for 14 days. The U.S.-Canada border also remains closed to nonessential travel until at least Aug. 21.
The Blue Jays are scheduled to start July 24 at Tampa Bay and play their home opener five days later against Washington.
“Canada has done a good job overall in terms of flattening the curve. We’re about 300 or so cases a day. But that success we’ve achieved is fragile as we’ve seen. It just takes a few sparks that can easily backfire to many more more cases. That’s something we need to keep in mind,” Njoo said.
Njoo said the federal government prefers the National Hockey League model of two bubble cities in Canada. Federal and local health authorities in Canada approved a plan for the NHL to play in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. The league plans to play all its games in those two Canadian cities so back and forth travel to the United States where COVID-19 cases are surging will not be required.
“The NHL model is closer to what we would be comfortable with,” Njoo said.
Njoo noted hockey players and staff will be observe a initial 14-day quarantine and will be in a isolated environment separated from the general public.
Njoo said MLB’s requirement for back and forth travel to the U.S. “is an issue.”
“We all know what the epidemiology of COVID-19 is in the United States,” he said.
COVID-19 cases are reaching record numbers in Florida and in the U.S overall. Canada has flattened the epidemic curve.
Njoo said MLB’s initial proposal allowed players to live in their Toronto homes even if they would be traveling back and forth from the U.S. Njoo credits the team for changing the plan so that it requires players and staff to isolate for the entire regular season home schedule at Rogers Centre and the adjoining Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel, which overlooks the field. Family members of the players will not be allowed to visit.
“Kudos to the Blue Jays for making that acknowledgment and making that sacrifice for what they are prepared to do during the regular season. But the fact remains if the Blue Jays go across the border, I’m a sports fan, I know where they will be going to play games, Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Miami Marlins,” Njoo said.
Njoo noted U.S. teams won’t have the same restrictions in their own cities that the Blue Jays do in their city. Players in other cities can live in their own homes and go out as they please.
“Those are the factors in play as we continue our deliberations at the federal government level,” Njoo said.
The Canadian government allowed the Blue Jays to move their summer camp to Toronto from their training complex in Dunedin, Florida. Players are not allowed to leave the Rogers Centre or the hotel and fines of up to $750,000 Canadian ($551,000 U.S.) and/or up to six months in jail.
Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro has said visiting teams would not leave the Rogers Centre and hotel if the regular-season plan is approved.
If the Blue Jays are not allowed to play in Toronto the alternative is their training facility in Florida. Some players have said they prefer to play in Toronto.
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