Deputy chief of public health says challenges remain for Raptors to play at home

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 Friday that 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 press conference Friday.

Njoo said the Raptors presented a plan with good health protocols and have learned from the NBA’s “bubble” experiment, when the league finished the 2019-20 season at an isolated campus near Orlando, Fla.

But Njoo said the NBA will not be using the hub city concept for the upcoming season, and that it would be “tough on everyone involved” to observe the same health measures over a months-long NBA season during which teams are not isolated together.

WATCH | Masai Ujiri pushes for Raptors to play in Toronto:

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri joined CBC’s The Current where he discussed the reasons why the NBA could safely return to play in Toronto next season. 2:17

“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.

Ujiri remains hopeful

The new NBA season is set to kick off on Dec. 22, but the league has yet to release information on where teams will play.

Speaking to The Current’s Matt Galloway Thursday, Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri says he’s hopeful the team will be able to play in their home city in the upcoming NBA season.

“We understand … how difficult this is. We understand that we have to be very sensitive to the pandemic and we respect public health. But we’re also a team that is passionate about our community,” Ujiri told Galloway. “We’re passionate about giving people a sense of hope.”

When asked whether athletes should be given exemptions to quarantine rules, Ujiri did not answer definitively, but said it’s important to be responsible. “We have been responsible, in my opinion,” said Ujiri. “The NBA stopped during the pandemic … the NBA did it first. And we set the example … and then we came back and we responsibly created an incredible bubble.”

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