Ontario caps arena crowds at 1,000 for sporting events as COVID-19 cases rise

A roundup of the latest news from sports affected by COVID-19.

MLSE announces transition to operating with no sold tickets as of Friday

Empty seats are seen at the Scotiabank Arena as Toronto Raptors take on Golden State Warriors in NBA basketball action in Toronto on December 18. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The latest sports news:

  • Ontario caps arena crowds at 1,000 for sporting events as COVID-19 cases rise
  • 7 NBA coaches now in protocols
  • 7 more positive results after cancellation of world juniors
  • QMJHL won't return to play until Jan. 14
  • Barcelona soccer team hit by outbreak

The Ontario government has capped the crowd size for indoor venues at 1,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, as the province deals with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The announcement was made Thursday by Dr. Kieran Moore, the province's chief medical officer, with the new capacity limits going into effect Friday.

The move will greatly affect the NHL's Ottawa Senators, with the effect already taking place for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. 

Following the province's announcement, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) released a statement that it will transition to operating without any sold tickets as of Friday, for the next three weeks at Scotiabank Arena — home of the Raptors and Maple Leafs.

The Raptors are scheduled to host the Los Angeles Clippers that night.

The Maple Leafs' next two home games are Saturday against Ottawa and Wednesday against Edmonton. Whether they go on as scheduled remains to be seen, as the NHL may choose to postpone them until the cap on crowd size in Ontario is lifted.

The Maple Leafs, Senators and Raptors started their respective seasons operating at full capacity, but that was slashed to 50 per cent earlier this month as the latest COVID-19 wave fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant started to take hold in Ontario.

The news comes as the province has set several records for daily COVID-19 infections in quick succession, with the latest peak — 13,807 new infections — reported Thursday. The province also recorded eight new deaths due to COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday that 965 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 200 people in intensive care.

7 NBA coaches in protocol

Philadelphia's Doc Rivers and Denver's Michael Malone were placed into the NBA's health and safety protocols Thursday, raising the total number of head coaches on that coronavirus-related list to seven.

Rivers' situation was first reported by ESPN and Malone's was first reported by The Denver Post. Rivers' and Malone's statuses were confirmed to The Associated Press by people with direct knowledge of each situation, both speaking on condition of anonymity because neither coach nor their teams had revealed the matter publicly.

Rivers and Malone join the Los Angeles Lakers' Frank Vogel, Chicago's Billy Donovan, Phoenix's Monty Williams, Portland's Chauncey Billups and Oklahoma City's Mark Daigneault in the protocols.

Also in the protocols: around 120 players, as of early Thursday, along with an untold number of other staffers from around the league — including assistant coaches, broadcasters, referees, media relations personnel, stat crew members, athletic trainers and more.

The NBA has seen 558 players entering Thursday — already a single-season record — take the court this season, largely because teams have had to sign dozens of replacements to hardship contracts just to get through the periods of roster depletion caused by time missed with the virus.

Entering Thursday, 10 games have been postponed in the NBA this season for virus-related reasons, the most recent of those coming Wednesday when Miami — through a combination of players either entering the protocols or having injuries — did not have the league-mandated eight available players for its scheduled game at San Antonio.

Golden State's game at Denver was postponed because the Nuggets — through a combination of injuries and a newly discovered outbreak of the virus — did not have the league-minimum eight players available to start the contest.

The NBA changed protocols in recent weeks mandating that everyone in the bench areas must wear masks during games — with the exception being head coaches. Some coaches said last season that the masks, when they had to wear them, interfered with their ability to communicate with players and referees during games.

New positive tests from world juniors after cancellation

The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced seven new positive COIVD-19 tests from the world junior hockey championship following the cancellation of the tournament, including a member of the Canadian team.

Two members of Sweden's team tested positive, as well as one member each from Russia, Germany and Slovakia. An on-ice official also returned a positive test.

The IIHF announced the positive results Wednesday, a day after the world juniors in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was cancelled in its fourth day. Two players from the United States and a player from Russia and Czechia previously tested positive, resulting in the forfeiture of games.

The IIHF said all team members and officials who tested positive will be required to complete a mandatory minimum 10-day quarantine before they are able to return home.

QMJHL delays return

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has extended its holiday break until Jan. 14 as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Eastern Canada.

The QMJHL said in a statement Thursday that it's pushing back the end of its break to create a safe environment for players and staff, facilitate players' return to school and allow them time to practice and work out.

The league was originally scheduled to resume play Jan. 7 after starting its break on Dec. 18. The QMJHL says its regular season schedule will resume in the week of Jan. 17, with postponed games to be rescheduled at a later date.

The league said its updated COVID-19 protocols include a series of preventive testing before players and staff reconvene, and that additional measures will be announced in the upcoming days.

The other two major junior leagues under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella — the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League — have resumed play.

Spanish League's Barcelona might not be able to play

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Barcelona squad swelled to 10 on Thursday, potentially jeopardizing the team's return to league play after Spain's winter break of nearly two weeks.

Sergino Dest, Philippe Coutinho and Abde Ezzalzouli are the latest players to contract COVID-19, Barcelona said. They are self-isolating at home and the team said they were "in good health."

The club already announced this week that Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti, Gavi, Jordi Alba, Alejandro Balde, Clement Lenglet and Dani Alves had tested positive and were isolating.

Barcelona is also depleted by injuries going into Sunday's match at Mallorca in seventh place.

with files from CBC Sports and The Associated Press

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