Return of spectators to Ontario sports arenas still over a month away

Ontario's plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions won't have any immediate impact on fan capacity for hockey and basketball teams operating in the province.

Capacity to move back to 50 per cent as part of 2nd step of re-opening on Feb. 21

Toronto Raptors fans fill the arena for the team's home opener against the Washington Wizards. More than 500 spectators won't be allowed in Ontario arenas until Feb. 21, the provincial government announced on Thursday. (Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions won't have any immediate impact on fan capacity for hockey and basketball teams operating in the province.

The Ontario government announced today that some indoor venues, including movie theatres and gyms, will be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity starting Jan. 31.

However, large sports arenas and concert venues will be only allowed 500 people or half capacity, whichever is lower, until Feb. 21. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a press conference Thursday that capacity will be increased to 50 per cent at that time, with limits being completely lifted March 14.

The cap of 500 is a lower number than what is already permitted in Ontario. The government limited capacity at large indoor venues at the lesser of 50 per cent or 1,000 people starting Dec. 31 as the province dealt with a surge of cases fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NHL's Maple Leafs and NBA's Raptors, said at the time it would operate its teams without fans for at least three weeks following the start of the restrictions.

Capacity limits in Ontario have led the NHL to postpone several Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators home games, with the league hoping to reschedule them when restrictions were eased.

The restrictions also affect most clubs in the major junior Ontario Hockey League.

Ontario reported 4,061 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday and 594 people in intensive care units. That's the second day in a row that the number of hospitalizations has fallen, from a peak Tuesday of 4,183, though the ICU occupancy is still rising.

The province reported that another 75 people have died, including some deaths that occurred earlier this month.

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