Restrictions return today as COVID cases surge; partial shutdown for NHL – Times Colonist

B.C. imposes limits on number people at indoor gatherings. Ontario expands booster program. Israel bans travel to Canada, U.S., eight other countries. NHL stops cross-border games, seven teams halt operations.

COVID-19 cases are surging across Canada, spurred by the emergence of the Omicron variant.

British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland are reintroducing public health restrictions today.

The restrictions in B.C., announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday, are in effect until Jan. 31.

They include: 

• Limits on indoor personal gatherings, including at rental and vacation properties. Such gatherings should only be one household plus 10 individuals, or one additional household. Everyone age 12 and older should have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

• B.C. Vaccine Card required for entry at organized events of all sizes; QR codes should be scanned.

• At food and liquor establishments with table service, patrons can not go to other tables; masks need to be worn when not seated.

• Seating limited to 50% at venues with a capacity of 1,000 and up.

• Sports tournaments can not be held.

• New Year’s Eve organized gatherings must be seated-only events; no mingling or dancing allowed.

• Retail stores are being urged to have COVID-19 safety plans in effect for holiday sales. 

Ontario, meanwhile, is expanding COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility to all adults, provided it’s been at least three months since they received their second dose.

In B.C., boosters have been going to the elderly and the most-at-risk. Invitations will expand beginning in January to all British Columbians age 12 and up.

Canada reported thousands of new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend as the Omicron variant continued its rapid spread.

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The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The NHL and its players association temporarily clamped down on teams crossing the Canadian border and shut down operations of two more teams on Sunday for a total of seven in hopes of salvaging the season as COVID-19 outbreaks spread across the league.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs were added to the list of teams told to shut down operations, joining the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins.

Canadian-based teams will not play U.S.-based teams from Monday through Thursday ahead of the league’s holiday break (Dec. 24 through Dec. 26). Those postponed games are expected be rescheduled.

The league said the decision was made, in part, because of the “fluid nature of federal travel restrictions.”

“We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular season schedule,” the NHL and NHLPA said Sunday in a joint statement. “Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness.”

All told, 27 games have been postponed through Saturday and 12 more through Thursday will be pushed to another date. Roughly 10% of the 700-plus players were in the league’s virus protocol as of Saturday.

The Los Angeles Kings were supposed to host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, but that’s been postponed. Kings coach Todd McLellan said it’s “a very uneasy time right now for the players and the people who are involved in the game.”

“What’s strange for us … is that we have players for the most part that are feeling perfectly fine that are being pulled from the game. We’ve got a bit of a flu bug, cough, the typical winter stuff going through our team. Those players are playing, which is odd, but I get the protocols,” he said. “I get the health directives, and I do believe we’re in good hands.”

McLellan added that it’s difficult at this time of the year because “there’s little ones at home with wives, and family becomes really, really important and we’ll have a bunch of happy players that are getting on that plane, and the ones that we have to leave behind, we’re going to get them home. We’ll figure out a way.”

The Winnipeg Jets were the only Canadian team playing Sunday — hosting and beating the St. Louis Blues 4-2 — after three games involving Canadian teams already were postponed.

“I think the big thing is when you win a hockey game you want to play the next day,” Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said. “This will take us out of it for a couple days. But what it will allow us to do is get back and work on some details in our game that we hope to continue to improve on.”

Jets center Mark Scheifele said the team learned of the postponements moments after the game.

“You never know right now,” he said. “You could see it coming kind of, we weren’t really sure, so obviously we know now and waiting to see what all transpires. We’ll keep rolling with the punches.”

All of the COVID-19 disruptions may lead to NHL players staying home instead of participating in the Winter Olympics in less than two months. The NHL has said players can compete in Beijing unless the coronavirus becomes a problem.

The league has until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Winter Games without financial penalty, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing. The NHL and NHLPA said it will announce a final decision in the coming days.

Scheifele called the uncertainty “concerning.”

“It’s not in our hands anymore, you know what I mean? You just got to trust in the plan and just keep on doing what you do … and hope for the best,” he said.

Detroit’s home game against Colorado on Monday had been postponed because of the Avs’ COVID pause, and the Red Wings’ trip to Minnesota for Thursday’s game was called off. The Maple Leafs had only one game on the schedule ahead of the holiday break, but the cross-border decision already postponed it.

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the NHL and the NHLPA agreed to daily testing and other enhanced protocols through Jan. 1, with an evaluation no later than Jan. 7.

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Roxanne Egan-Elliott, Times Colonist

Some Victoria residents are feeling anxious and uncertain about having even small get-togethers this holiday season as they watch COVID-19 case counts rise and new restrictions are announced.

Amity Skala was planning to celebrate the holidays with just her husband and her parents, but even that small group has her parents worrying.

“They’re just feeling vulnerable, so I don’t think they even want us to come over. That would have just been the four of us,” she said.

B.C. announced new measures to take effect Monday aimed at curbing the spread of COVID‑19 amid the rise of Omicron, the newest variant of concern, believed to be much more transmissible. The restrictions include limiting indoor social gatherings to 10 visitors or one household in addition to the host household.

While many people were ­planning small gatherings that are still allowed under the new rules, the changes are causing some to think twice about their plans.

“It feels harder this year, because last year, there were very clear restrictions, and this year it seems like there’s a lot more negotiating going on,” Skala said. “I was talking to a friend the other day and she was invited to a whole bunch of tiny Christmas parties, and she’s saying I don’t want to go to all of them, but I can’t see all my friends the way I normally do.”

Other measures taking effect Monday through the end of January include restricting New Year’s Eve celebrations to seated-only events with no dancing or mingling between tables, which has caused the Fairmont Empress Hotel to cancel their gala to ring in the new year.

The event featured a seated dinner and entertainment, but with some groups booking more than one table, it would have been difficult to monitor mingling, said Brigitte Guy, manager of marketing and public relations for the hotel.

“We understand some people might be disappointed about the New Year’s Eve but we do need to make sure that our guests and employees stay healthy and safe,” Guy said.

The roughly 80 guests who had purchased tickets to the event are being automatically refunded.

Christmas dinners and brunches are expected to go ahead at the hotel.

Sports tournaments are another casualty of the new restrictions. Several hockey tournaments set to take place on the Island this month are cancelled, some just days before they were meant to begin.

The Comox Valley Minor Hockey Association has cancelled two tournaments scheduled to start just after Christmas.

Simon Morgan, the association’s registrar, said local players and those who planned to travel to Courtenay for the tournaments will likely be disappointed by the cancellation. The association managed to have a couple of tournaments in the fall, “and you could see the enjoyment on the players’ faces” to compete against teams from out of town, Morgan said.

“It does change the complexion of things a little bit, but we have to be safe. Safe is the number one issue,” he said.

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The Associated Press

Israeli ministers on Monday agreed to ban travel to the United States, Canada and eight other countries amid the rapid, global spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced the decision following a Cabinet vote.

The move comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel. Canada and the U.S. will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from travelling to, and from which returning travellers must go into quarantine.

A parliamentary committee is expected to give the measure final approval. Once authorized, the travel ban will take effect at midnight Wednesday morning.

Israel has seen a surge in new cases of the more infectious coronavirus variant in recent weeks, and began closing its borders and restricting travel in late November. Foreign nationals are not allowed to enter, and all Israelis arriving from overseas are required to quarantine — including people who are vaccinated.

Other countries that were approved to be added to the travel ban starting Wednesday are Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey.

Israel rolled out a world-leading vaccination campaign early this year, and more than 4.1 million of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

In a prime-time address on Sunday, the prime minister urged parents to vaccinate their children, declaring that the country’s “fifth wave” of coronavirus infections had begun. As of Sunday, Israel’s Health Ministry has reported 175 cases of the new variant.

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The Canadian Press

Mirvish Productions says the North American première of “Leopoldstadt” in Toronto has been cancelled.

The play by Tom Stoppard was expected to be at the Princess of Wales Theatre between Jan. 22 and March 13.

A statement from David Mirvish says the play was cancelled because of the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The play was a much lauded and sold-out engagement at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre.

Mirvish said in a statement that the “sudden arrival” of the Omicron variant has “made it impossible” for him to fulfil his dream of presenting “Leopoldstadt” in Toronto.

He said the play greatly moved him when he saw it in January 2020 at its first preview performance in England.

Non-subscription patrons who hold tickets to “Leopoldstadt” will be contacted about their options for exchanges to other shows and refunds.

“I always knew the financial risks involved in bringing this extraordinary production here, and I was happy to take them if it meant that ‘Leopoldstadt’ could be seen by Toronto audiences. That’s how much I believe in the power of this very special play,” Mirvish said in a statement Sunday.

“By programming it in 2022, almost two years from the start of the pandemic, we thought we would be protected from the vagaries of COVID-19 and would be able to present the play in Toronto in a relatively safe environment.”

But he said the new variant and capacity restrictions announced last week by the Ontario government, as well the non-essential travel advisory from the federal government with looming border closings and quarantines expected, have complicated logistics.

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