The Winnipeg Jets would have been preparing to play the Vancouver Canucks Sunday night and again today, but the horn suddenly sounded last week and the two games were postponed. The Canucks have been immobilized by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ll be out of action until they’re healthy enough to resume play.
Because they travel a lot and play a game with close physical contact, National Hockey League players are tested every day for COVID-19. Any sign of infection triggers a procedure of further tests. Seventeen of the 22 players on the team’s active roster have come under suspicion of infection, forcing postponement of their Winnipeg games.
This system was created because the league wanted to stay in business and the fans wanted to watch televised games, even in empty arenas with recorded crowd noise. The league’s divisions were reorganized so teams would not travel across the closed border between Canada and the U.S. The result is an odd season in which Canadian teams only play other Canadian teams.
Another result is that some of our strongest and healthiest neighbours are out there every day exposing themselves to possible COVID-19 infection and submitting to daily tests. They are serving like the sentinel flocks of chickens that public-health authorities sometimes maintain to detect communicable diseases.
The sentinel flock in Vancouver has sent a signal that suggests the disease is still rampant. After further testing it should become apparent whether the Canucks have enough healthy players to show up for their scheduled games.
Academics and business leaders who want the Canada-U.S. border reopened have been making the case that the U.S. got rid of the president who let the pandemic get out of control and replaced him with a president who is totally focused on defeating the virus. We shouldn’t be inflicting economic pain on border towns that live by Canada-U.S. traffic, the reasoning goes, just because of a pandemic that was a problem last year.
NHL teams in U.S. cities have already postponed 37 games because of COVID-19. Canadian teams have postponed eight games, including the Canucks’ two Winnipeg games, which provides an inkling of the prevalence of the disease in the two countries. The pandemic was last year’s problem and it is still this year’s problem. Canadians should not pretend it is behind us.
It will be a sad thing if more NHL teams suffer COVID-19 outbreaks and the schedule gets torn to shreds. Teams should redouble their efforts to protect the players from infection and keep the hockey season at least limping along toward some kind of conclusion. Canadians are feeling mighty sorry for themselves with no night life, no concerts, no large gatherings. At least we have hockey on television.
It would be a sadder thing still, however, if we decided to reopen leisure travel between Canada and the U.S. and exposed ourselves to the levels of infection that now prevail in the U.S., where numbers of new cases and hospital admissions are rising once again despite a vigorous national immunization campaign.
Canadians should thank their hockey players for entertaining the fans on the long winter evenings and for accepting the risk of COVID-19 infection. A good way to honour their efforts is to take the hint from the Canucks’ misfortune and recognize the virus is still abroad in the land, just outside our front doors. As they say in the sports world, it isn’t over till it’s over.