CBC News has learned the federal government will announce today whether it is OK for the Blue Jays to play ball in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ottawa is expected to inform the team of its decision on Saturday whether to approve Major League Baseball’s plan for a 60-game season, according to multiple federal sources.
The plan calls for the Blue Jays and visiting teams to cross the Canada-US border regularly.
For weeks, senior federal officials have privately expressed concerns about the Blue Jays playing games in COVID-19 hot spots before returning to Toronto while also hosting teams from U.S. states where positive cases are growing fast.
The Blue Jays are set to open their season on July 24 at Tampa Bay as Florida continues to set new daily records for COVID-19 cases.
Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, voiced concerns at a public health briefing on Friday about the frequent travel.
“The teams — and the Blue Jays included — would be, during the regular season, travelling back and forth across the international border. And that, I think, is an issue,” he said.
WATCH | Dr. Howard Njoo discusses logistics of Jays playing season in Toronto:
If the plan is rejected, the Blue Jays will have to find an alternative stadium for home games. The team’s home opener is scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals.
One option is to play at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., which would eliminate the need for cross-border travel. The Blue Jays were already planning to have one of their minor league teams play there.
But the team’s preference is clearly to play in Toronto. The team revised its plan for home games from an initial proposal that didn’t call for a modified quarantine for players and team officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Njoo said the team initially wanted players to be able to live in their condos or in-season residences and be part of the community. The revised proposal mandates the Blue Jays and visiting teams stay in a hotel connected to Rogers Centre, as the Toronto club is currently doing during training camp.
Provincial approval in place
The Ontario government gave its approval for the Blue Jays to play in Toronto under those conditions, with the province warning the agreement would be rescinded if the protocols are broken.
But because the plan would involve multiple crossings of the Canada-U.S. border, the final decision rests with the federal government. Canada currently requires individuals to quarantine for 14 days after crossing the international border.
Ottawa has given permission for the NHL to restart its season, with 24 teams set to arrive in Toronto and Edmonton later this month. Njoo said Friday the federal government was more comfortable with the setup the NHL is using because all players and staff will be isolated from the general public, and the teams won’t leave Canada until they finish play.