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Alberta chief medical officer of health believes world junior hockey can be safe

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EDMONTON — Alberta's top doctor is defending the province's decision to allow the world junior hockey championship to be played in Edmonton later this month while restrictions and cases mount during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday she feels the tournament can be safe.

"My team and I have worked with the organizers of the world junior hockey tournament to make sure their protocols are going to protect public safety, that they will be adequate to make sure the tournament can proceed in a safe way," Hinshaw said. 

"I've made the decision to allow them to proceed based on that rigorous evaluation."

The 10 teams arrived in the Edmonton "bubble" on Sunday night following charter flights.

All teams are in a four-day self-isolation period in individual hotel rooms. After that period and five negative COVID-19 tests, teams can hold practices.

The tournament is scheduled to start on Dec. 25 with no fans at Rogers Place.

It is the first major sporting event involving non-Canadian teams in the country since the NHL's restart this summer in Edmonton and Toronto.

The Toronto Blue Jays and Raptors have played solely in the U.S. during the pandemic, while Major League Soccer's Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps did the same after playing a series of games against each other on Canadian soil.

For the next four weeks in Alberta, restaurants and bars will be limited to takeout and delivery, and casinos, recreation centres, gyms, hair salons and spas must close. The province announced a daily record of 1,887 positive tests on Monday.

Hinshaw pointed to the NHL's restart, with no positive tests, as a reason why the world juniors can work.

World junior organizers have adopted many of the same plans as the NHL.

"We did see in the summer that we were able to allow the NHL tournament to proceed and there was no risk to public safety (from) that tournament," Hinshaw said. 

"I recognize there are many, many people in this province who would like to be able to play sports right now. At the same time, we also recognize there are many, many people in the province who get great joy and interest from being able to watch a world-class competition such as the world juniors."

The International Ice Hockey Federation says all participants will fill out a health questionnaire every 12 hours and everybody in the bubble will be tested daily.

Exhibition games start Dec. 20.

Participants can't leave the secure zone, which includes the hotel, Rogers Place and the practice rink. Participants must wear masks, except during practices, games and meals. 

The IIHF says all handshakes will be eliminated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2020.

The Canadian Press