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Toronto Maple Leafs fans applaud their team as they play against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena, on Oct. 13, 2021.Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment will reduce the seating capacity at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena by 50 per cent as of Saturday to comply with new COVID-19 restrictions issued Wednesday by the Ontario government.

MLSE, which owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors of the NBA, said it supports the province’s decision and will continue to work with government and public-health officials to try to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Ontario announced its highest single-day case load in more than seven months. Of the 1,808 people newly infected more than half were fully vaccinated. Numbers are increasing dramatically due to a more contagious variant of COVID-19 called Omicron.

The move by MLSE means that crowds will be limited to 9,900 at Raptors games and 9,400 when the Maple Leafs are on home ice. The Raptors are at home on Saturday against Golden State and Monday against Orlando. The Maple Leafs do not play again at the arena until Dec. 23 when the St. Louis Blues pay a visit.

“Our ticketing team is working through the logistics of implementing this change and will provide follow-up details to all ticket-holders within 24 hours,” a statement provided by MLSE said.

An enhanced protocol called Operation Mask Up (or out) is also being implemented. It will require everyone in attendance to strictly adhere to the mask-wearing policy or risk ejection from the building. Since the beginning of their seasons, both teams have required guests to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or provide a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The 50-per-cent capacity rule would also apply to BMO Field, the home of the CFL’s Argonauts and Toronto FC soccer club, but their seasons are over.

The new provincial restrictions would have greatly reduced the attendance at Sunday’s Grey Cup game in Hamilton which attracted a standing-room crowd of more than 26,000 people.

NHL postpones more games as COVID-19 cases among players continue to rise

The Ottawa Senators also announced that they would comply with the 50-per-cent capacity limit at Canadian Tire Centre.

Tougher restrictions are being imposed as COVID-19 numbers increase throughout the sports world. The NHL has been especially hard hit, and as of Tuesday nine games had been postponed because of outbreaks among players. The league then announced Wednesday that Calgary’s Saturday home game against Columbus has been scrapped as well.

The Flames currently have 16 players, three coaches and seven other staff members on the NHL’s protocol list.

Cases exploded dramatically on Tuesday and the trend continued on Wednesday. The Nashville Predators announced that six players, their head coach and five other members of their travelling party are now in the COVID-19 protocol, the Florida Panthers added five players and some other staff members, the Boston Bruins added star centre Patrice Bergeron to it as well.

On Tuesday night, two Vancouver players were pulled during a game against Columbus after a second set of tests undertaken earlier in the day indicated that they have COVID. Edmonton’s head coach Dave Tippett learned late in the day that he also had tested positive and could not be behind the team’s bench. The Oilers then also entered a player into the protocol on Wednesday morning.

With coronavirus cases and postponements climbing, the Associated Press reported that the NHL is about to immediately introduce enhanced protocols that will restrict players to their hotels while on the road. Daily testing will also return for players and coaches as part of an agreement reached between the league and the NHL Players’ Association after two days of meetings and worsening conditions.

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