Canada loses another world championship as figure skating event cancelled

The Canadian Press

For the second time in five days, a world championship in Canada for a major winter sport was cancelled because of the spread of COVID-19.

One week before the start of competition, Quebec officials on Wednesday announced the cancellation of the world figure skating championships. The event was scheduled to run March 18-22 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

The decision was similar to the one made by the International Ice Hockey Federation in cancelling the world women's hockey championship on Saturday. That event, which was scheduled to start later this month in Nova Scotia, was called off after the province recommended it not be held.

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The figure skating announcement came hours after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann made the announcement at the legislature in Quebec City.

McCann said a number of factors went into the decision by the province.

"Certain participants will come from countries where there is community transmission of the virus," she noted, adding that some may have limited access to laboratory tests and health care.

Also taken into consideration, she said, was the "potential transmission of the virus to a significant number of people," and the possibility the event "could contribute to a geographical dissemination of the virus."

A third world championship in Canada remains on schedule, however. The women's world curling championship is slated to start on Saturday in Prince George, B.C.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Tuesday that the province and the Northern Health authority have been working with the event's organizers to limit the risk of novel coronavirus transmission.

Later Wednesday, the NBA suspended its season until further notice when a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus. The Jazz's last game was against the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

As of Wednesday, the other major professional teams in Canada had not followed some of their American counterparts in cancelling any games or banning fans from attending events. Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners announced Wednesday they will not play home games in March.

Later Wednesday, the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets announced they will play home games without fans after Ohio announced a ban on public gatherings is forthcoming. The NHL's San Jose Sharks, meanwhile, will play at least their next three home games without fans, including March 19 against the Montreal Canadiens.

The NHL says it is evaluating its options for the rest of the season and expects to make a further announcement Thursday.

The other big American development Wednesday was the NCAA announcing Division I basketball tournament games will be played without fans in arenas.

"My heart hurts for all of the seniors whose last shot at a National Championship and for some their last career game ever is going to be played in an empty arena," tweeted Canadian national women's basketball team star Kia Nurse, who won NCAA titles with Connecticut in 2015 and '16.

"Big crowds in March, there's really nothing like it."

Back in Canada, Dr. Alon Vaisman, a resident at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine who specializes in infection control, said it's not a high-risk move as of now to attend a major pro sports event in Toronto — as an example. But he said when there is a clear case of community transmission, things change.

"And once that happens, then we have lost the epistemological link back to any travel (and) that means that the virus is free floating in Toronto," he said. "So going out and attending a public event with lots of people, all of a sudden your risk just shoots up of acquiring the virus.

"Whereas up until now, we could say there is not likely anyone who randomly can have the virus, you'd have to have contact with somebody. So, right now, we don't have that situation. But any second now that (could happen). Attending the Raptors game, it's probably not that bad today, but you know, in a week, two weeks, three weeks, that'll change."

It was a busy day for coronavirus developments in Canadian sport. Among the developments:

— The Western Hockey League, one of Canadian major junior hockey's three leagues, will have at least one game without fans. The Everett Silvertips announced they will play their final regular-season home game without fans after Washington State banned large group events in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The Seattle Thunderbirds also announced their next two home games will be played without fans before a determination is made on their final home contest .The move came after Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a ban of gatherings and events of more than 250 people in three Western Washington counties, including the greater Seattle area.

— The Toronto Defiant esports team cancelled its planned Overwatch League event in the city next month because of concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.

— The Americas Olympic qualifying boxing event in Argentina was cancelled, leaving 13 Canadian boxers in limbo.

— Woodbine Mohawk Park and the Central Ontario Standardbred Association implement new screening measures for paddock entry in Campbellville, Ont. Starting on Thursday, anyone entering the paddock will be subject to questioning by security. Once cleared, people will receive a sticker on their Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario licence upon entry that will excuse them from the screening process for seven days.

Some domestic events remain on.

The CFL announced it's going ahead with its regional combines as well as its national combine in Toronto this month.

A wrestling Olympic qualifier in Ottawa this weekend also remains on schedule, along with Canadian university championships in curling, volleyball and hockey.

— With files from John Chidley-Hill in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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