Victoria among four Canadian cities to host quarantine bubbles for Olympic athletes

Victoria is among four cities that will host modified quarantine bubbles for Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have been training outside the country prior to the Tokyo Summer Games.

The allowance is being made under a National Interest Exemption that will let athletes, coaches and staff avoid the standard 14-day quarantine period.

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Athletes and staff will still need to stay at a government-authorized hotel when they return to Canada, but once they receive a negative result, they’ll be able to join one of the training bubbles in Victoria, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal.

In the bubbles, they will be limited to their accommodation and training facilities, and will not be able to interact with the public. Each bubble will have a “compliance officer” and COVID-19 testing will take place regulary.

Anyone who breaches the conditions will be removed from their training or team to complete a regular 14-day quarantine. They could also face fines or prosecution.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government issued the exemption after reviewing a plan put forward by the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees and Own the Podium.

“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world and base our decisions on science, the best data available and the advice of public health officials at the local, provincial and federal levels,” he said.

The plan also has the approval of public health officials in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, as well as local health authorities on the Island and in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

Protocols were developed with “a meticulous focus on health and safety,” said David Shoemaker, CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“With a little more than a month to go until the Tokyo Olympic Games, athletes are in their final stages of training,” he said. “The opportunity to access a safe training bubble that protects the athletes and their communities is an incredibly important part of their preparation.”

Greater Victoria is a national training hub for several sports, with more than 75 Island or Island-based athletes preparing to compete in the Games. The Olympics start on July 23 and the Paralympics on Aug. 24.

The exemption will include the Canadian men’s basketball team, which arrives in Victoria on Friday from training camp in Tampa, Florida, for the Tokyo Olympic qualifying tournament, June 29 to July 4 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

“We have been working with the federal government on the extensive bubble plan,” said Clint Hamilton, chair of the Victoria organizing committee for the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament.

“There will be no contact between the players and the public.”

That doesn’t mean a limited number fans won’t be in the building, at a distance in the stands, watching the games. Organizers have asked for 10 per cent of capacity attendance in the 7,400-seat Memorial Centre. A decision is expected soon.

The national basketball teams of Greece, China, Turkey, Uruguay and Czech Republic will enter Victoria for the qualifier under similar conditions. Organizers have selected a single downtown Victoria hotel to house all six teams. Citing security, organizers have not divulged the name of the hotel.

A similar exemption was this month issued for the NHL playoffs, allowing teams to cross the border without a 14-day quaratine during the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens are currently playing the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the semifinal round.

Players are tested before and after arriving in Montreal, and are confined to their hotel or residence and the arena.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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