Jets home games will continue at 100 per cent fan capacity for now

Winnipeg Jets players and fans celebrate Mark Scheifele’s (55) game winning goal against the Los Angeles Kings during overtime NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, November 13, 2021. (John Woods/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Winnipeg Jets will continue to host fans at 100 per cent capacity for their home games at Canada Life Centre, the company that owns the team, True North Sports and Entertainment, announced Thursday.

The decision was made public hours after the Montreal Canadiens announced there would not be any fans in attendance at games in the Bell Centre for the time being.

True North Sports and Entertainment said it will "confer and collaborate with the Province and Manitoba Health as the impacts and spread of COVID-19 variant Omicron are monitored locally."

As a result of the decision on capacity limits, Manitoba Moose games and all other events held at Canada Life Centre and the Burton Cummings Theatre will also continue to operate at full capacity.

“We thank all of our guests who have been looking out for one another with diligent mask use at games and events at Canada Life Centre this season,” said Kevin Donnelly, the senior vice president of venues and entertainment at True North. “While there are many aspects of the pandemic we cannot control, we can all play a part in keeping our community safe.

"In addition to the continued proof of vaccination requirement to enter our venues, mask use will be essential to our ability to continue to gather for Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose games and the many concerts and events coming up at our venues.”

The company added that it would actively encourage mask use with what it called "stringent enforcement" for those who do not comply with the rules, though did not detail what those punishments may be.

Guests attending events at the Canada Life Centre and the Burton Cummings Theatre are required to wear a mask at all times, according to the venues' policies, including during pauses between eating and drinking.

On Thursday, the province of Manitoba reported 218 new COVID-19 cases, according to publicly available data. The total marks the highest daily count in six months, with the previous high coming on June 12, when it was 294.

Nearly half of the new cases, a total of 108, are in the Winnipeg health region.

Not all teams in Canada have publicly declared a verdict on how they will handle the country-wide spike in COVID-19 cases, fuelled in large part by the rise of the Omicron variant. So far, however, True North Sports and Entertainment is the only organization to have opted against a reduction in capacity.

The Canadiens shuttered the Bell Centre to fans, for at least Thursday and possibly into 2022, following a request from Quebec public health officials, which the team said it accepted "in order to help ensure the safety and security of our fans and fellow citizens throughout our community."

What that means for the immediate future of fans attending games at the Bell Centre is not yet known. The team said an update on Saturday's game, which has the Canadiens slated to face the Boston Bruins, will be provided on Friday.

The team went on to note that it had "obtained assurances" that, beginning with games in January, the organization will return to "a partial capacity scenario and be able to host fans once more."

Earlier in the week, the Ontario provincial government became the first jurisdiction to announce a capacity limit for NHL or NBA teams this season, restricting in-arena attendance for venues able to host 1,000 or more people to 50 per cent.

"This measure is being taken to reduce opportunities for close contact in high-risk indoor settings with large crowds and when masks are not always worn," the Ontario government said in a media release.

Before Ontario's announcement, Canada's deputy chief public health officer said rules allowing full capacity for indoor pro sports needed to be examined.

"At the present time, let's say sports arenas, hockey arenas still at full capacity, that's something that I think needs to be looked at," Dr. Howard Njoo said.

Provinces -- not the federal government -- are responsible for making capacity rules.

Capacity slowly went up in provinces across the country over the summer and fall, but rising case counts and the emergence of the Omicron variant have put the issue back in the spotlight.

Research on the Omicron variant, which was first identified in November in Botswana and South Africa, is still developing. However, since its initial discovery, the data so far show it is highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus.

By the end of November, the World Health Organization had labelled Omicron as a "variant of concern." Since then, according to the W.H.O., it has been identified on every continent except Antarctica.


Editor's Note: The COVID-19 situation, in the NHL and around the world, is constantly evolving. Readers in Canada can consult the country's public health website for the latest.


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