The NHL has announced a league-wide shutdown for Wednesday through Christmas Day, including games and practices.
It’s the latest measure taken to try to stem the drastic spread of COVID-19.
Players will return to facilities for testing on Dec. 26 — one day earlier than scheduled. Any practice scheduled for Dec. 26 must start after 2 p.m. local time.
The announcements results in the postponements of five more games — all scheduled for Thursday.
Previous postponements already had eliminated Wednesday’s four-game schedule — and no games were scheduled to be played from Dec. 24-26.
Two games remain on the schedule for Tuesday before the pause.
The decision comes as the number of positive COVID-19 tests among NHL players and personnel have skyrocketed in recent days, a rise that is believed to be driven by the prevalence of the Omicron variant. The league had already postponed all games before the break involving cross-border travel.
The latest wave of coronavirus-related shutdowns Monday led to the closure of facilities for 10 teams. Of the 49 postponements, 44 have come over the past two weeks with the Delta and Omicron variants spreading across North America.
Research on Omicron is evolving as sample sizes grow, but what has been observed in studies so far indicates it is highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus, leading to the influx of breakthrough cases — infections among vaccinated peoples — in populations that have high vaccination rates like the NHL and NBA.
The NHL traditionally takes a three-day break for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and returns to action with a full slate of games on Dec. 27. There was no immediate word on when the postponed games will be rescheduled.
Rescheduling some of the games for the Olympic break in February — should NHL players not go, a move that has become increasingly likely given the daily surge in COVID infections and additional postponements — is possible in some buildings but not others, as some buildings have previously booked those dates for other events.
More than 15% of the league’s 700-plus players are in virus protocol, and the resulting schedule disruption almost certainly has doomed the possibility of Olympic participation. A final decision on the Beijing Games is expected this week, and the odds of NHL players returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2014 have cratered.
— With files from The Associated Press.