Manitoba health officials try to allay fears citizens have about Winnipeg becoming CFL hub city

While the Canadian Football League was still working to the 11th hour Thursday to make a plan to play a shortened season in Winnipeg this fall, two provincial health officials tried to allay fears Manitobans have about bringing hundreds of American players into the hub city in the middle of a raging pandemic.

The CFL did not make any announcements about a potential season Thursday, even though the date was a self-imposed deadline to put plans in place. An announcement of some sort is expected to come Friday.

However, chief provincial health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Manitoba minister of health Cameron Friesen laid out some of the reasons why they believe it is safe for the CFL to hold its season at IG Field in south Winnipeg and house up to 900 players and personnel in city hotels. More than half of the players and staff will be coming from the United States, where the COVID-19 virus is out of control in many areas.

“The plan that the CFL has proposed is a robust plan,” Friesen said. “But I think Manitobans need to understand, no fans in the stands, that’s No. 1. This is not something that is going to get fans coming to the stadium.

“No. 2, the hotels that the players and all of the coaches and staff will be staying in is closed to everyone else, so they are only there for the players.

“That total isolation period is as long as 21 days — 14 days before you travel here and then seven days when you get here, provided that’s all approved by the feds. And then, it’s only players and staff travelling to Winnipeg. No out of town fans are coming from other jurisdictions. And finally, any violations of those rules, any violation of the bubble principle put in place by the CFL, and that player goes home. This is the plan that has support of public health, a plan that is significant and a plan that we believe meets the test.”

Roussin clarified comments he made earlier in the week about player testing. Originally, he said players will not have to be tested before leaving for Winnipeg, but on Thursday he said they will have to test negative in their home locale before being allowed to travel.

“(They’ll be) be again tested on their first day here, tested on their sixth day here and on their 13th day here,” Roussin said. “The isolation requirements will be 14 days in their home jurisdiction, tested, then come to Winnipeg for a further period of self-isolation of seven days before they can enter team activities.”

Roussin was asked how all that will that be enforced.

“Remember that we have 49 cases right now (in Manitoba) that need to self-isolate and we don’t have people standing outside their doors watching. This is part of the public health response. There’s a lot riding on it for these players, for these teams to ensure this bubble is COVID-free. There’s a lot riding on that. That’s (what) we are relying on.”

The CFL has said it would like to hold a six-game regular season, followed by two rounds of playoffs and the Grey Cup game, in Winnipeg, likely starting in mid-September.

The Manitoba government has pledged $2.5 million to make it happen, but the league is still hoping for $42.5 million in federal funding in order to pay for player salaries and football operations.

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