Maple Leafs, Raptors, Senators going down to 50% arena capacity

The Premier of Ontario Doug Ford announces that all indoor venues will have to operate at half capacity starting December 18th.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Ottawa Senators will be limited to 50 per cent capacity at home games starting on Saturday after Ontario unveiled new rules on Wednesday to combat the current COVID-19 surge.

The rule allows 50 per cent capacity for any indoor venue with capacity for 1,000 or more people -- meaning the 17 Ontario-based OHL teams also will be affected.

"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.

Ontario was the first jurisdiction to announce a capacity limit for NHL or NBA teams this season.

"Let's be very clear, you've got to target the largest venues," Ontario premier Doug Ford said at a press conference.

"Sports games, large concerts -- people aren't masking as much as (organizers) implore them to mask," Ford added. "They all aren't masking. You're sitting side-by-side for hours. Compared to a restaurant, that's comparing apples and bananas as far as I'm concerned, not even apples and oranges."

The Raptors' home game against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Saturday will be the first game to be played under the new rules.

For its part, MLSE, which owns the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, Argonauts and TFC, among others, issued a statement supporting the move:

"As has been the case throughout the pandemic, MLSE remains fully supportive of the province's decision, and we continue to work closely with our government and public health partners to protect against the spread of COVID-19 within our community.

"Our ticketing team is currently working through the logistics of implementing this change and will provide follow-up details to all ticket holders within 24 hours. Additionally, as was being planned prior to today's capacity announcement, MLSE's venue operations team will implement an enhanced mask protocol within the venue beginning with Saturday's Raptors game called 'Operation Mask Up (or out)' that requires all attendees to strictly adhere to all mask-wearing protocols or risk ejection from the building.

"MLSE also strongly encourages all fans to get vaccinated and closely follow all public health protocols to protect each other and our community at large."

The Senators similarly supported the move.

"[T]he Ottawa Senators are preparing to make ticketing modifications in order to welcome a maximum of half the venue’s capacity crowd figure to Canadian Tire Centre when the team’s home schedule resumes on Sunday at 5 p.m. against the Boston Bruins.

"As previously noted, the Senators require everyone who enters Canadian Tire Centre to provide proof of full vaccination, with the final dose administered no sooner than 14 days before the date of the event. Children under 12 years of age will be exempted from these requirements. Mask wearing also continues to be a mandatory requirement with exception of while eating or drinking."

Before the announcement, Canada's deputy chief public health officer said rules allowing full capacity for indoor pro sports need 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 out," 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.

Canadian NHL teams had no fans in arenas last year in the regular season and played solely in Canada to avoid border restrictions. Limited crowds were allowed in some Canadian venues in the playoffs.

The Raptors played last season in Tampa, Fla., because of border restrictions.

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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