Canada’s deputy chief of public health says the Toronto Raptors have presented a good plan to play at home this coming NBA season, but concerns remain over enforcing strict health protocols and travel over the border with the United States.
Dr. Howard Njoo said public-health officials from Ontario, Toronto and the Public Health Agency of Canada have had discussions with the Raptors, who are hoping to play at Scotiabank Arena despite spikes in COVID-19 cases at home and in the U.S.
“From a technical point of view we have received their protocols, and we’re continuing to look at them. I would say they’re very good in terms of the testing regime,” Njoo said at a news conference Friday.
Njoo said the Raptors have learned from the NBA’s “bubble” experiment, when the league finished the 2019-20 season at an isolated campus near Orlando.
But Njoo said the NBA will not be using the hub-city concept for the coming season, and that it would be hard to observe the same health measures over a months-long NBA season during which teams are not isolated together.
“The tough part I think even for the players is the discipline,” Njoo said. “You could imagine what they had to do during the time they were in the bubble in Orlando, and now do the same kind of measures but not in the same environment for several months for a regular season, I think would be tough on everyone involved.”
He also said cross-border travel “continues to be an issue.”
The Canada-U.S. border is closed to non-essential travel and those entering the country are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
With COVID-19 cases rising in Toronto and the U.S., where all other NBA teams are based, Njoo said: “We’ll continue to look at the epidemiology of COVID-19 in the U.S. and in Canada, and that will certainly be part of the consideration.”
Ontario reported 1,396 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 440 of those in Toronto. The province had a record 1,500 new infections Thursday. Toronto had 472 of those cases.
The U.S. reported more than 150,000 cases on Thursday alone.
The NBA saw its 2019-20 season pause in March owing to the spread of COVID-19. It resumed July 30 at a sealed-off complex at Florida’s Walt Disney World.
The NBA plans to start the 2020-21 season Dec. 22, with training camps opening Dec. 1.
Earlier this year, Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays were denied permission to play their games at home and moved temporarily to Buffalo, N.Y. Federal public-health authorities cited quarantine rules at the border as a key reason for keeping the Jays out of Rogers Centre.
The 2019-20 NHL season also paused in March before continuing in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton.