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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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UEFA threaten to ban breakaway clubs from all competitions



By Simon Evans

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – European soccer‘s governing body UEFA has warned clubs linked to a breakaway Super League that they face being banned from domestic and international competitions if they set up a rival to the Champions League.

In a joint statement–statement-by-uefa-english-fa-rfef-figc-premier-league-laliga-le with Spanish, English and Italian leagues and federations, UEFA said it will consider “all measures”, including the courts and bans from domestic leagues, in opposition to plans for a breakaway competition.

UEFA said it had learnt that clubs from those countries “may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League”.

“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we….(and) also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” UEFA said.

“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way,” the statement added.

In January, FIFA had said that a breakaway league would not be recognised and that “any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation” – meaning players would be banned from the World Cup.

Sunday’s UEFA statement said: “The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”


(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)

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Netherlands and Poland seal narrow Billie Jean King Cup playoff wins



(Reuters) – The Netherlands and Poland both needed deciding doubles wins to battle through their Billie Jean King Cup playoffs on Saturday but Britain, Italy and Canada all enjoyed easier passages.

In Den Bosch, the Dutch were without world number 11 Kiki Bertens for the second day because of injury and found themselves trailing China 2-1 after Wang Xiyu beat Lesley Kerkhove in Saturday’s opening singles.

But Aranxta Rus beat Wang Xinyu to level the tie and then teamed up with Demi Schuurs to defeat Zhang Shuai and Zu Yifan to send the hosts through.

It was equally tight in Poland where the hosts were pushed to the brink by Brazil.

Brazil’s Carolina Meligeni Alves took the tie into a deciding doubles with a win over Katarzyna Kawa but the Poles prevailed 3-2 as Kawa and Magdalena Frech came back from a set down to beat Meligeni Alves and Luisa Stefani.

Kazakhstan also won a deciding rubber to see off Argentina.

Britain led 2-0 overnight against Mexico in London but Marcela Zacarias beat Heather Watson to keep alive the tie.

Katie Boulter proved too strong for Giuliana Olmos though to clinch the tie for the hosts.

Italy beat Romania 3-1 while Canada‘s teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez sealed her country’s path as she gave her side an unassailable 3-0 lead over Serbia thanks to a three-set win over Nina Stojanovic.

Ukraine eased past Japan 4-0 while Anastasija Sevastova secured Latvia’s 3-1 victory over India.

The eight winners move forward to next year’s qualifying round where they will hope to reach the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

The old Fed Cup was re-branded last year and named after the American great and 12-times Grand Slam singles champion who won the inaugural tournament nearly 60 years ago.

This year’s 12-team Finals were postponed because of the pandemic and a new date has yet to be finalised.


(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)

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Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year



(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.

With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.

F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.

The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.

“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.

The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.

“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”

Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.

International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.

One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.

Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.

The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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