Ontario Premier Doug Ford says 550 fully vaccinated front line health care and long-term care workers will be allowed to watch Monday night’s Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game, reversing his government’s position.
Mr. Ford said the decision to allow a limited number of front line workers into Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for the decisive first-round playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens was made after discussions with public health authorities and hospitals.
Just Sunday, Ontario had declined pleas – including from Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown – to allow a limited number of fans into the arena, as Montreal did in its Bell Centre for Saturday night’s game. But Monday morning, the Premier issued a brief statement announcing his reversal.
“Every single day our health care workers put their lives on the line to help others. This small token of appreciation doesn’t measure up to the sacrifices they’ve made during COVID-19, but it is an opportunity for us to recognize their heroic efforts to keep each and every one of us safe,” the Premier said in a statement. “It also shows that the more of us who get vaccinated, the faster we can return to doing the things we miss.”
Montreal had allowed 2,500 paying fans, some who forked over thousands of dollars for tickets, to attend Saturday night’s game, with masking and physical distancing in place. Ontario, by contrast, is only allowing 550 health care and long-term care workers to attend, with the Leafs’ owners waiving the ticket costs and offering each one a free jersey.
Mr. Ford said all of those attending will have received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks ago. He also said other precautionary measures would be in place, including masks, distancing and enhanced cleaning to ensure these fans could attend with “minimal risk.”
Ontario remains under a stay-at-home order, with strict limits on gatherings and a ban on indoor dining and non-essential shopping. These will be the first fans allowed to attend a Leafs game since lockdowns began in the pandemic’s first wave last year.
Ryan Mallough, the director of provincial affairs for Ontario for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, was critical of the move, which comes as many retailers and restaurants remain closed to indoor customers.
“There are 400,000+ small business owners in Ontario. I’m sure many of them are Leafs fans and wish their government supported and prioritized them the same way,” he said in a post on Twitter.
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