More fans will be allowed in the stands at Ontario’s sports venues starting Saturday, with the Blue Jays vying for a playoff spot and the regular season fast approaching for the Maple Leafs and Raptors.
The province announced Friday that the crowd limit for outdoor seated events will increase from 15,000 to 30,000, or 75 per cent of capacity, whichever is less. That’s The same rules apply for any outdoor events where spectators have to stand.
Proof of vaccination is now required in all outdoor settings where capacity is regularly 20,000 or more. For indoor events, also with proof of vaccination required, the limit will be the lesser of 10,000 or 50 per cent of capacity. That’s the case across the board — for sports, but also banquet halls, conferences, convention centres, concert venues, theatres and other areas.
“With public health and health-care indicators currently stable, and proof of vaccination now in effect, we are able to recommend cautiously easing capacity limits in certain settings,” Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said Friday afternoon.
In addition to the vaccine mandate, protocols such as masking, hand hygiene, distancing, screening and monitoring for symptoms remain in place. Toronto’s pro sports teams had already announced they would require proof of vaccination before entry from all fans age 12 and up.
“We all need balance and we’ve made sacrifices over the last year and a half, and so have these businesses. And I think this will allow them to open safely and not be sources of infection or outbreak. I do think the certification/validation process is a game-changer for these businesses,” Moore said.
One remaining area of concern is when fans at indoor venues remove their masks, now restricted to eating and drinking.
“The vaccine is not 100 per cent effective. It’s roughly 88 per cent effective against Delta (variant). So at any time, even amongst vaccinated people, they may be carrying the virus … For those venues, I am concerned that they could be a source of infection to others, but we’ll have to continue to monitor that data,” he said.
The province isn’t aware of any significant exposure linked to pro sports venues, Moore said, though he added it can be difficult to trace.
The new limits will allow 30,000 fans per game to catch the Jays in the final week of their regular season — and then maybe the playoffs — starting Tuesday night against the rival New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre. They close out their schedule against the Baltimore Orioles next weekend, and had already been selling additional tickets while promising refunds if the new limits weren’t approved.
Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, for one, was excited to hear the news.
“I think that’s going to be awesome,” he said Thursday before the Jays took on the Twins in Minneapolis, when word spread that the increase could be approved. “When we had the 15,000 it sounded great. I know what that place sounds like when there’s a lot more than that, so it’s going to be awesome to have that crowd. I’m looking forward to it.”
Said Moore: “I’m a big fan. I want to see them succeed. They’ve been great partners in having early adoption of the validation of immunization status and or testing. They’re moving to complete immunization certification, which I very much appreciate.”
The Leafs, meanwhile, will now have up to 10,000 fans in the stands for Saturday night’s pre-season opener against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena.
BMO Field, the outdoor home of Toronto FC (now on the road) and the Toronto Argonauts (who hosted the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night under the old limit), will have a crowd limit of 20,000.
For the first time this season, the Jays are selling tickets in the 500 level, starting at $15. The club says standard seating and physically distanced options are available.
“With just six home games remaining for the Blue Jays to clinch a post-season berth, we need fan support more than ever to create the infamous Toronto loud home-field advantage,” the team said in a statement Friday.
The Rogers Centre is considered an outdoor venue even if the roof is closed, given its size and ventilation system.
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