B.C.'s provincial health officer says she thinks the National Hockey League can safely play games in the province during the upcoming 2021 season, but that the official green light from the provincial government is still pending.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said health officials from the five Canadian provinces with NHL hockey teams have been consulting with league officials and have already submitted recommendations for enhanced safety protocols.
"We have made suggestions to the NHL, which they have taken up, and we believe that those plans meet the safety protocols in terms of public health risk," Henry said Thursday during a media briefing.
"It's now over to the respective provinces to determine whether the NHL games will happen or not," she added.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the provinces were united in their dealings with the NHL and collectively pushed for improved health measures that included increased testing.
The effort was fronted by Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
Dix says he expects the B.C. government to make an announcement about the NHL in the coming days.
"We haven't given a final answer, but it will be soon," said Dix.
The NHL has released its schedule for a shortened 56 game season for 2021 that includes division realignments to limit team travel amid the pandemic. That includes an all-Canadian North Division.
The season is slated to begin on Jan. 13.
While NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated last week he believed the league had come to an agreement with each of the provinces to allow play, B.C. had yet to make any official announcement on whether games will actually be allowed.
The Vancouver Canucks are scheduled to host the six other Canadian NHL teams during the 2021 season.
The Canucks first home game is set for Jan. 20 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Alberta confirms NHL return
On Friday, Alberta was the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season.
The Alberta government said it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25, following a review of protocols outlined in the league's return-to-play plan, along with some enhancements.
Under the NHL's recently announced COVID-19 protocol, every club will have a compliance officer who will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing all safety measures. That includes daily symptom screening and temperature checks for players.
Coaches will be required to wear masks during games. Players and personnel will be tested regularly, and not be allowed to leave hotel bubbles when on road trips.
The federal government said it has issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and team staff returning to Canada for training camps under "national interest grounds."
Instead, modified quarantine procedures for players and team staff entering the country will be determined by provincial health authorities, according to league officials.
Adult team sports are currently banned in B.C. as part of COVID-19 health measures.