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Rise of virus variants has Canucks worried about outbreak worsening –



VANCOUVER — The most alarming part about the Vancouver Canucks’ COVID outbreak is that the crisis is still likely to get worse.

News Friday that the number of players entrapped by the coronavirus has swelled to eight extends the frightening trend of an expanding outbreak in the National Hockey League’s Northwest outpost. In consecutive days, the number of Canucks going into COVID protocol has grown from one, to two, to eight. At least one member of the coaching staff has also tested positive.

Players Quinn Hughes, Alex Edler, Braden Holtby, Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen were added to the protocol list on Friday, based on Thursday testing and ongoing contact-tracing. Another player, as yet unnamed, has gone into protocol from Vancouver’s taxi squad.

The National Hockey League team has made no public comments since the Canucks’ home game Wednesday against the Calgary Flames was postponed shortly before faceoff, when Vancouver defenceman Travis Hamonic joined forward Adam Gaudette on the protocol list. Gaudette was pulled from practice on Tuesday when results returned 24 hours after Monday’s daily test came back positive.

Privately, there is a lot of concern within the organization that medical evidence suggests more positive tests could follow.

The NHL announced Thursday that the Canucks would not practise until at least Tuesday, nor play again until Thursday. Those target dates are expected to be pushed back as more players get added to the COVID list.

We may never know what strains of the coronavirus have hit the Canucks, but the Vancouver Coastal Health region has become a global hotspot for the highly-transmissible P.1 Brazilian variant.

The Canadian Press reported Thursday that St. Paul’s Hospital, which screens positive samples in the Vancouver area, had identified by Wednesday night 480 confirmed cases of the P.1 variant. This regional total was more than any country outside of Brazil has recorded, the news agency reported.

The Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, less than 90 minutes north of Vancouver, was closed Tuesday after a P.1-dominated outbreak in the host village for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Brazil variant is 2½ times more transmissible than the most common coronavirus strain and far more likely to afflict people in the 20- to 39-years-old age group – a demographic that encompasses nearly all professional athletes.

The NHL has dealt this season with significant COVID-19 outbreaks in several American cities. But the most serious of these, in Dallas, Buffalo and New Jersey, all occurred in the first month of the season before coronavirus variants, like those originating in Brazil and the United Kingdom, appeared in significant numbers in North America.

That’s partly why this outbreak in April among the Canucks feels more threatening. It also comes with just six weeks left in the NHL’s 56-game truncated season.

“Each situation we have dealt with has involved its own unique facts and circumstances,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet in an email on Friday. “So, there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. I wouldn’t consider this situation to be any more worrisome or concerning than any other. The potential variant aspect and the timing within the season are just two potentially distinguishing facts from some other cases. Nothing more.”

Daly said there has been “no consideration” given to shortening the Canucks’ season by reducing the number of games they’ll play after emerging from their shutdown.

Even if the Canucks resume playing Thursday against the Flames, which seems unlikely, they would need to survive 19 games in 34 days to complete the season. And this assumes the NHL extends Vancouver’s schedule from its original May 8 conclusion to the May 11 cut-off the league has established.

The Canucks, almost hopelessly out of a playoff spot in the Canadian division, have four straight games scheduled against the last-place Ottawa Senators April 22-28. These could easily be eliminated without impacting the integrity of the playoff race.

But the NHL would still have to juggle schedules for the other five teams in the division for the Canucks to play games that week that are more relevant to the standings.

In the most serious outbreaks early in the season, in New Jersey and Buffalo after the teams played each other on consecutive nights Jan. 30 and 31, the Sabres went 14 days without playing and had six games postponed. The Devils were shuttered 15 days and missed seven games. And, by the way, the number of New Jersey players on the protocol list peaked at 19, so the Canucks may have a way to go yet before we know the scope of their outbreak.

If the Canucks don’t play for 15 days dating from Gaudette’s positive test result on Tuesday, their next game wouldn’t be until April 14 against the Edmonton Oilers. That would leave only 28 days to play 19 games.

It’s a bad situation. And getting worse.

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Blue Jays optimistic Jose Berrios won’t miss next start after abdominal scare –



Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios is doing much better after leaving Tuesday’s game with an abdominal injury, manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday.

After the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team reported that Berrios left the game due to abdominal tightness on his left side and received post-game treatment.

Berrios threw seven innings of one run ball Tuesday, striking out six and allowing only four hits.

“He’s doing fine,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing a lot better than we thought, which is great news. Actually, you might get to see him playing catch in a little bit to see how he’s doing. He did all the tests. Everything looks good.”

The right-handed pitcher who the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline is 11-8 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA in 173.1 innings pitched.

The Blue Jays wrap up their series with the Rays on Wednesday at 3:07 p.m. ET/ 12:07 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.

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France to open Billie Jean King Cup defence against Canada



Reigning champions France will kick off this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague against Canada on Nov. 1, with the final scheduled for Nov. 6, the International Tennis Federation said on Wednesday.

Formerly called the Fed Cup, the women’s team competition featuring 12 nations was originally scheduled to be held in Budapest in April last year before being postponed twice due to the pandemic.

France triumphed in the 2019 edition when a team featuring Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia and Pauline Parmentier defeated Australia.

This year, Belgium, the 2001 winners, will face 2017 runners-up Belarus on the opening day, while eleven-times winners Czech Republic will play on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.

The competing nations will each play two group-stage ties to determine the winners of the four three-team groups, who will then progress to the semi-finals. Each tie will consist of two singles matches and a doubles match.

Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Australia, the U.S., Russia and Switzerland will be the other nations competing.


(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Gymnasts Biles, Maroney demand justice in botched FBI sex abuse probe



WASHINGTON (Reuters) –Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.

FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”

“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.

Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation.

Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as “more of a pedophile” than he was a doctor.

It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report  what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.

“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice.

Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.

Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.

“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said.

“It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”

Horowitz also appeared on Wednesday along with Wray.

Horowitz said that the now-fired agent who falsified Maroney’s statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”

The FBI declined to name the fired agent, but Senator Richard Blumenthal identified him as Michael Langeman.

Langeman served as a supervisory special agent in Indianapolis, where he led a task force that investigated child sexual exploitation, according to an interview he gave to a local podcast in 2018.

Reuters could not immediately reach Langeman for comment.

The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.

That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a “302” until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.

When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.

Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.

As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.

“Yes,” all four of them said.

Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.

Wray said the case was presented twice for possible prosecution and declined, but he deferred to federal prosecutors to explain their reasoning.

“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said on Wednesday.

Raisman, meanwhile, expressed frustrations that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for covering up Nassar’s abuse for years.

“Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar’s abuse, long before it became public,” she said.

In a statement, the USOPC said it remains “completely dedicated to the safety and well-being” of its athletes, and it has implemented reforms after hiring a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

USA Gymnastics did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)

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