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It's too soon to host crowded indoor events, says Quebec's public health director, over the objections of the Montreal Canadiens and their fans.
The province turned down the Montreal Canadiens' request to allow 10,500 fans in the Bell Centre during the Stanley Cup final. The first game in Montreal against the Tampa Bay Lighting is tonight.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, said he understands the "frustration and disappointment" many fans feel.
"We support our players. Already, where they're at is extraordinary," he told Radio-Canada's Tout un matin.
But, he said, the presence of the more contagious Delta variant makes large gatherings risky, given that most of the population still has only one dose of vaccine.
Only 79 cases of the Delta variant have been identified across Quebec, far below the number in other provinces. But Arruda said that could change quickly.
"Any variant present is a threat," he said.
He also said allowing more than 3,500 spectators wouldn't be fair to other groups requesting a larger capacity.
"Even if we had 10,000 fully vaccinated people in the Bell Centre, at this stage, we don't have the conditions to use vaccine passports in a way that's fair to all," he said.
Montreal will have free outdoor screenings of the Stanley Cup final downtown at the Quartier des Spectacles and at the Olympic Stadium's Esplanade to appease Habs fans.
Just over 4,000 people will be allowed to gather at the Quartier des Spectacles, and reservations must be made beforehand online.
"As of this Friday, Montrealers will have the opportunity to encourage their favorite hockey team, a source of pride for our metropolis, in its quest for (their) 25th Stanley Cup," Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement.
Hockey fans in Quebec City will be able to watch the games projected inside the Videotron Centre starting Friday, at a cost of $11 each. The rules will be the same there, too: A limit of 3,500 spectators per match will be permitted.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at the Jewish General Hospital, said organized outdoor events are a safer alternative to increasing indoor venue admissions.
"I think at least an organized event has the possibility of making it safer, not only because it's outside but hopefully because it's organized in such a way that you'll be preventing people from staying very packed together for prolonged periods of time," he said.