Sports

Public Health cools Blue Jays’ optimism on summer in Toronto


TORONTO — Repeated cross-border travel and visits to high-infection areas continue to be federal government worries that prevent a full return for professional sports, a sober contrast to Mark Shapiro’s recent optimism about a summer return to Toronto for the Blue Jays.

Responding to a request for reaction to the club president and CEO saying “objective scientific data” suggests his team will be “less of a threat to public health by July,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement to Sportsnet that the back-and-forth to the United States and spectator gatherings remain “key areas of Federal/Provincial/Territorial concern.”

“Selected other concerns include the resumption of play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high, athlete living arrangements and community transmission,” added the statement issued Thursday.

Where players live and community transmission would have to be addressed as part of a proposal, something the Blue Jays haven’t started on yet, but “we could put something together in the next month or so,” said Shapiro in an interview earlier this wek. “That’s not talking about fans. That’s just talking about the ability to return home.”

The Blue Jays will wait until their players begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations to do that, although vaccine alone won’t be enough for an exemption around the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving travellers.

For the time being, the quarantine applies to all, even to those who have received the shots.

“Any change to this approach will be based on scientific evidence and expert advice,” said the PHAC.

The agency is reportedly poised to show some flexibility with players acquired by Canadian NHL teams ahead of the April 12 trade deadline, reducing the quarantine for those arriving from the U.S. to seven days, according to CBC News.

Still, the Blue Jays will need a more significant accommodation than that to host games at Rogers Centre. Their modified-cohort plan from last summer was rejected by the federal government because “the cross-border travel required for the regular season would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety,” said the PHAC.

For the time being, it’s not enough if both the Blue Jays and their visitors are vaccinated because of concerns disease can still be vectored after the shots.

“Scientific evidence is clear that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are highly effective at preventing illness,” said the health agency. “However, there is still limited evidence on whether someone who received a COVID-19 vaccine is still able to transmit the virus. Future studies of COVID-19 vaccines will help PHAC to understand how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccine lasts and whether the vaccine can reduce the spread of the disease.”

The Blue Jays’ case will not be solely based on the vaccine, said Shapiro, who pointed to Major League Baseball’s “very rigorous protocol,” and the diligence of his team that’s produced “a zero-case result” from summer camp through the 2020 season, and into spring training thus far.

“Coupled with vaccines, which people around the world seem to be signalling leads to herd immunity, which leads to a much safer public-health environment, that gives me objective reason to believe that there’s an optimistic chance we can play in Toronto this summer,” said Shapiro.

Convincing the Canadian government of that is another matter.

The health agency closed its statement with the following: “Questions about Major League Baseball’s plans should be directed towards the league/team.”

FULL STATEMENT FROM PUBLIC HEALTH:

“The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been working with professional sports leagues to assess their return-to-practice and return-to-play plans against public health criteria.

In July 2020, based on public health advice, the Government of Canada did not issue a National Interest Exemption for Major League Baseball’s regular season as the cross-border travel required for the regular season would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety.

Repeated cross-border travel of Canadian and opponent teams and spectator gatherings remain some of the key areas of Federal/ Provincial/Territorial concern for a full return-to-play of professional sports. Selected other concerns include the resumption of play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high, athlete living arrangements and community transmission.

There are important considerations for gatherings, individual case and contact management, and vaccination priority groups. Local epidemiological context, trends and public health requirements also need to be considered in the review and approval of sports events.

Scientific evidence is clear that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are highly effective at preventing illness. However, there is still limited evidence on whether someone who received a COVID-19 vaccine is still able to transmit the virus. Future studies of COVID-19 vaccines will help PHAC to understand how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccine lasts and whether the vaccine can reduce the spread of the disease.

Currently, travellers arriving in Canada, whether they are vaccinated or not, must follow mandatory quarantine and testing requirements, including a 14-day quarantine. Any change to this approach will be based on scientific evidence and expert advice.

Questions about Major League Baseball’s plans should be directed towards the league/team.”





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