British Columbia

Dr. Bonnie Henry clarifies COVID-19 restrictions for sports teams

The initial COVID-19 restrictions left some athletes in British Columbia confused and frustrated.

Dr. Henry says intention is to make sure physical activity and sports can continue in safest manner possible

Dr. Bonnie Henry delivers a live update on the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C. on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

UPDATE, Monday, Nov. 23: Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry clarified on Monday that the intent of the restrictions is directed at teams travelling between regions and tournaments.

"If I live in Burnaby and go to school in Vancouver, and my soccer team is in Vancouver, then that's fine," Henry said.  "What we're talking about is the movement of teams to play in different areas."

Henry said the ministry is working with viaSport — the government's agency for sports programs — and other partners to quickly develop specific guidance for provincial teams.

"These clarifications will come," she reassured.

Henry said the intent is to make sure people still have opportunities to participate in sports and physical activities.

"We saw that early on in the pandemic when everything was stopped that it really had a detrimental effect, particularly on young people. So we want to get those opportunities to continue," Henry said. 

"So the ways that [these activities] can be done the most safely for your team, for your community is what we are asking people to do right now."

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Some athletes in British Columbia say they're confused and frustrated by new travel restrictions implemented as part of the province's efforts to reduce COVID-19 infections. 

On Thursday, provincial health orders related to sports and group fitness activities that were initially imposed in the Lower Mainland were extended across the province.

Athletes cannot travel between communities for games or for practice and training.

For ringette players like Haeley Keen, 12, it's made the game more complicated. She lives in Tsawwassen and the new rules mean her Riptides teammates who live across the Fraser River in Richmond can no longer come to Delta for practice. 

Instead, on Sunday, Keen played with just her four other Delta teammates.

"I was still grateful that I could still practise, but I was upset I couldn't practise with my whole team," Keen said. 

Her mother, Shanna Keen, said the new rules have caused a lot of confusion and the team is still seeking clarity on what is and isn't possible. 

UBC soccer player Sophie Damien says she's been playing and practising soccer since she was three, and this is the first time in years she hasn't been able to play or practise full time. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

'I can't play at all'

For some athletes, the new restrictions have put a pause on play entirely. 

Sophie Damien was just three years old when she first kicked a soccer ball. Seventeen years later, she has earned a soccer scholarship and plays with the University of British Columbia.

But Damien lives in North Vancouver, which means she's no longer allowed to travel to UBC for practice. 

"I'm not able to leave my local community to play sports, which is kind of unfortunate since I can't play at all," she said.

"It's just really hard to not be playing games and stay motivated."

The new health order also prohibits any spectators.

Health officials confirmed 516 cases of COVID-19 and 10 more deaths on Friday.

The new provincial health order is in place until at least midnight on Dec. 7. 

"The principle is the same for everyone, stay local and no travel for games," said the Ministry of Health in a statement to CBC on Friday.

That statement also says "it's going to look different for different leagues and in different regions," without offering further details.

The ministry says it is reaching out to viaSport  — the government's agency for sports programs — and other partners to quickly develop specific guidance for provincial teams.

To hear Delta Ringette Association volunteer Shanna Keen speak about the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on B.C. teams on CBC's The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

Delta Ringette Association volunteer Shanna Keen speaks with Stephen Quinn about the impact restricting travel between communities will impact youth sports -- especially for girls. 7:33

With files from Deborah Goble and The Early Edition

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