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The Canadian Press

Bubbles are best: experts say return of sports risky as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Watching Connor McDavid let a slapshot fly or Fred VanVleet sink a deep three can be a salve to the soul of a sports fan run down by the difficult realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while health experts agree that the NHL and NBA saw great success in wrapping up their seasons in “bubbles”, some are concerned that the return of professional sports could see the virus spread not only between athletes, but into the larger community. Here’s a look at risks they see with various return-to-play scenarios as the sports calendar attempts to fill up after a quiet November:    BUBBLE UPWhen the NBA and NHL announced they were creating sealed-off environments in which to finish their seasons in the summer, some skeptics expected to see COVID outbreaks. Neither league saw a single positive test result in their bubbles. “We didn’t see those massive transmission events that we were concerned about,” said Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist with the University of Manitoba. “The bubble aspect worked. The problem that we get into is how well can you maintain that for an entire season?” While effective from a health perspective, players weren’t enthused about spending months locked down and separated from loved ones. They aren’t eager to repeat the experiment this season, with the NBA having all teams play in home markets (except for the Toronto Raptors, who will call Tampa, Fla., home because of border restrictions). Some sports are trying to repeat the bubble experience, albeit for shorter time periods.The world junior hockey championship is expected to begin in a bubble in Edmonton later this month. Team Canada’s selection camp is already underway in in Red Deer, Alta., though all athletes and staff are currently under quarantine after two players and a staff member tested positive for the virus. Because there are more cases in the community now than earlier this summer, there’s a greater chance of the virus crossing into a protected environment, as anyone with access to the facilities can bring it in, Kindrachuk said. “If there’s high community transmission, you’re hoping that those people stay negative,” he said. “But even if they have a negative test, that doesn’t mean necessarily that the next day they’re not going to become positive and that they’re potentially spreading the virus. So it becomes extremely difficult.”Frequent testing in a walled-off environment allows for positive cases to be identified quickly, but the virus can be passed on before a person is tested, he added, and the number of tests needed over an extended period can take up resources needed elsewhere. “How much extra pressure do we potentially put on to communities that are underneath much larger restrictions in regards to being able to maintain these bubbles?” Kindrachuk asked.  Another bubble could add extra pressure to Alberta’s health-care system. Curling Canada announced this week that it is planning to stage events in a protected environment in Calgary. The organization has not yet released details on dates, event specifics or formats.The National Women’s Hockey League, which includes the expansion Toronto Six, will also need to protect its bubble when the league begins play in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Jan. 23. While most leagues with deep pockets have found ways to play during the pandemic, sports like curling and women’s hockey face the threat of being replaced if they spend too much time away from fans, said Moshe Lander, a sports economist with Concordia University. “If you’re not even on TV, then you can quickly find yourself irrelevant,” he said. “And that poses an existential threat to those leagues, to those circuits, where you miss a season. And that’s a problem.” PLAY ONSome leagues have opted to return with seasons that look almost normal, albeit with more face masks and less fans. The NFL has gone 12 weeks with teams travelling between cities and some stadiums even allowing a limited number of fans in the stands.But outbreaks among players and staff have climbed recently, forcing the league to postpone games and teams to play without stars. The NFL shows what happens when you combine the lack of bubbles with a high number of community cases, Kindrachuk said. “We’re seeing a lot of players, a lot of coaching staff that are testing positive. All these things start to come down to the question ‘Is it worth the risk?’” he said. After seeing success with a bubble in Florida earlier this year, NBA teams — except the Raptors — are returning to their home arenas for a season set to begin on Dec. 22.  The league tested players as they started individual workouts and announced on Wednesday that 48 players — about nine per cent — tested positive. Those athletes are now isolating before they can join group workouts. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League also decided to forge ahead with travelling when it started its season in October. It hasn’t been a smooth journey, though, with five teams having to halt activities due to outbreaks, and provincial restrictions postponing games and practices.  The league hosted a temporary bubble in Quebec City last month to help alleviate some of the schedule crunch, then announced last week it will suspend play until at least Jan. 3.When teams are moving between communities, there’s a much higher risk of transmitting COVID-19, said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto.“(Teams) can do things to reduce it, and they’re trying to, but it’s not perfect,” he said.Junior hockey “absolutely” poses a unique challenge because athletes are together for long bus trips and are integrated with their communities, living with billet families, Morris said. The QMJHL is the only major junior league to have started its season, with the Western Hockey League saying it plans to begin in early January and the Ontario Hockey League setting early February for its return. Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario sport minister, has said OHL players will not be allowed to body check in the 2021 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Morris isn’t convinced that banning body checking is the best way to cut down on transmissions.“I would say that’s ill informed and has no relation to our understanding of the transmission of the disease,” he said.  SOMETHING NEWDetails for the 2021 NHL season have yet to be unveiled, but the league has said it is targeting early January for a start date.Several possible scenarios have been floated, including temporarily realigning divisions to reduce travel and deal with border restrictions. The possibility of an all-Canadian division “really would help” because the pandemic is at very different stages in the U.S. and Canada, and each country has different approaches to public health, said Dr. Brian Conway, head of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre. “The Canadian division makes a lot of sense,” he said. Conway also doesn’t see huge concern in having players return to Canada from other countries, assuming each man is tested and quarantines upon arrival.Testing athletes as they arrive for training camps allows teams — and the league as a whole — to create a baseline where no one is infected, Conway said. “It’ll start out well, they’ll be reassured by how things go, and then as you move forward, there will be more and more cases,” he said. After the baseline is established, athletes and staff will interact with people in the community. Because numbers in the community are currently so high, each interaction will carry greater risk than it would have earlier this year, Conway said. Those interactions between the community and athletes are what’s driving up numbers in the NFL, he added. Conway said he’s worried about what happens when athletes get time away from the rink. There have already been cases this year of NHL players being caught out at nightclubs despite the pandemic, he noted.“I’m very, very concerned that people who are in a bubble or are in a very, very controlled environment and then are (allowed) to loosen the rules for the next couple of days, that people are going to view this as a licence to do whatever they want, the old normal,” he said. “That’s a big risk.” In order to keep transmission of the virus low, the NHL needs to come up with serious consequences like steep fines or forfeited games for breaking COVID protocols, Conway said. “There needs to be in place a lot of education. Sort of ‘This is what you need to do and this is why,’” he said.  WHAT TO DO? As COVID-19 cases climb, questions are being raised about how much longer professional sports will be able to continue. “With the (way) things are going in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine any of the major sports reasonably continuing to have games outside of a bubble,” Morris said. “So they’ll either have to bubble or take a pause. I think that’s the high likelihood.” Even if games can be played, some experts wonder whether they should. The long-term impacts of the virus are still relatively unknown, Kindrachuk said, and leagues should be asking whether returning to play right now is worth the risk. “If we just put this off by the months that we need to be able to get things back in our communities to where we need, get transmission back under control, to me, that is more worthwhile,” he said. Others say society needs to continue to function in order to maintain people’s mental and physical health.  “In North America, team professional sports is so much a part of the day-to-day lives of many that it has to exist in some way,” Conway said. “So I think if we were to turn around at this stage, given what’s been done, and shut it down, there would be a very big push back that would affect health.”Sports also need to continue from an economic perspective, with multi-billion dollar TV deals that need to be fulfilled, said Lander. Leagues also need to find a way to keep players safe so competition remains at a high level, he added.“The show has to go on and it has to be legitimate. It can’t just be trotting out a bunch of third stringers or practice squads, or there’s a problem,” Lander said. Getting fans back in the stands is important, too, Lander added, but having people take in a sporting event live can’t risk public health. A super-spreader event or a death linked to a game would be catastrophic, he said. “The public backlash would be so severe that it’s not worth violating for a season or maybe even two seasons to get things done.” Athletes and sports leagues are in a unique position to help others, Morris said, but in order to do so, they’ll need to focus on public health instead of playing games. “If I were in professional sports — every single professional sport — if they want to have the greatest chance of success moving forward with the least risk to their athletes, they would be spending the time right now on mobilizing the public to follow public health measures and to encourage people, when the vaccine comes, to take the vaccine,” he said. “Sports are really influential and they can make a huge difference in the trajectory of the pandemic.”This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020. — Follow @gkarstenssmith on TwitterGemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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Ontario reports fewer than 2000 new COVID-19 cases on anniversary of first infection – CTV Toronto



Ontario is reporting fewer than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases Monday as the province marks the anniversary of detecting its first infection.

The 1,958 cases mark a decrease from Sunday’s report when 2,417 were logged.

With 35,968 tests for the disease processed in the last 24-hour period, Ontario’s COVID-19 positivity rate stands at 5.5 per cent. 

Monday’s report brings the province’s lab-confirmed case total to 256,960, including 5,846 deaths and 227,494 recoveries.

Forty-three of those deaths occurred in the previous day, 27 of which were residents of a long-term care home.

The province’s seven-day average for number of cases reported is 2,370, down significantly from the 3,034 reported the same time last week. There are currently 23,620 active cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario.  

A year ago today, Ontario confirmed its first case of COVID-19 after a 56-year-old man arrived at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto with what appeared to be a mild case of pneumonia.

Doctors made the decision to admit him due to an unusual X-ray and his recent travel to China.

Ontario health officials would confirm its first case of the “Wuhan Novel Coronavirus” on Jan. 25, 2020. 

READ MORE: One year of COVID-19 in Ontario: Where are we now?

A number of public health measures took effect in the months that followed, namely mask wearing, social distancing and some form of lockdown in the province.

On Dec. 26, Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a province-wide lockdown that shuttered all non-essential businesses and prohibited in-person dining at bars and restaurants.

Then, as the number of COVID-19 cases neared 4,000 a day in early January, Ford declared a state of emergency and issued a stay-at home order set to last a minimum of 28 days.

Last week, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the province would need to see daily COVID-19 cases fall to the 1,000 mark before the lockdown orders can be lifted

Where are the new COVID-19 cases?

Most of the new infections were found in Ontario’s COVID-19 hot spots.

According to data provided by the province, 727 cases were found in Toronto, 365 were found in Peel Region and 157 in York Region.

A handful of other public health units reported case numbers in the medium to high double digits, including Windsor-Essex (85), Niagara (82) and Durham Region (62).

Right now, there are 1,398 patients in hospital with COVID-19, though more than 10 per cent of hospitals usually don’t report a daily bed census on Mondays. Of those patients, the province says that 397 are being treated in an intensive care unit and 283 are breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.

Update on vaccinations

So far, 286,110 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered throughout Ontario.

At least 5,537 of those shots were administered in the previous day.

The province says that 71,256 people have received their required first and second shots and are considered fully vaccinated at this point.

Ford is set to provide an update on the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan this afternoon. 

With files from Katherine DeClerq

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BlackBerry says unaware of reason for stock price surge



(Reuters) – Canada’s BlackBerry Ltd said it was unaware of any reasons for a surge in its share price on Monday that lifted gains to more than 150% since the start of January.

U.S.-listed shares of the security software supplier were up 17.7% at $16.53, set for an eighth consecutive session of gains and their biggest monthly jump since going public in 1997.

Responding to a request from securities regulator the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, BlackBerry said it was not aware of any material, undisclosed corporate developments that could have driven the surge in its stock and trading volume.

The latest jump in the company’s shares comes after Blackberry, the once-ubiquitous name in the smartphone industry, on Jan. 15 settled a patent royalties dispute with Facebook Inc.

Security filings on Thursday showed that some senior executives sold shares in BlackBerry last week, with Chief Marketing Officer Mark Wilson selling 78,500 shares and Chief Financial Officer Steve Rai offloading 32,954 shares.





(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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Investor exuberance pushes BlackBerry shares up 40% to highest level since 2011 –



Shares in Canadian technology company BlackBerry are changing hands at their highest level in almost a decade on Monday, as investor enthusiasm for the once high-flying stock has mysteriously returned.

BlackBerry shares were trading at almost $25 a share when the Toronto Stock Exchange opened on Monday, up more than $7 or more than 40 per cent from Friday’s level.

The stock has been quietly rallying for several days now, before taking off on Monday. When 2021 began, the company was worth just over $8 a share. It’s now worth about three times that.

The company has had a number of small pieces of good news in recent weeks, but nothing that would explain Monday’s rise in share price.

Last month, the company signed a deal with Amazon to work on a connected cloud software program for cars, and then in mid-January BlackBerry favourably settled a patent fight with Facebook, but Morningstar analyst William Kerwin says neither development is enough to explain Monday’s surge.

“BlackBerry’s stock movement doesn’t appear to be rooted in any fundamental firm changes, in our view,” he said in an email to CBC News.

Instead, the company has seemingly become one of many recent firms to benefit from a groundswell of retail investor enthusiasm on popular online message boards such as Reddit, regardless of whatever the Wall Street community thinks. Of the 11 analysts who cover the company, nine have a “hold” rating on the company’s shares, and two have “sell” recommendations.

None suggest buying. But that’s not stopping retail investors from doing exactly that.

“BB is moving on Reddit boards,” said Ophir Gottlieb, CEO of trading firm Capital Market Labs. “Not much else to say.”

More than 14 million of the company’s shares changed hands in Toronto on Monday. That’s more than three times the usual volume, and half the trading day is still to come.

Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist with SIA Wealth Management in Toronto, says BlackBerry is just the latest in a series of companies that have seen unexpected rises in share prices in recent weeks.

The current stock market rally has driven up the valuation of huge companies, and now investors are moving down the food chain looking for bargains.

“Smaller stocks don’t have as much liquidity or stock available to trade so a sudden stampede of cash chasing into a smaller cap stock can swamp supply and cause the kind of massive spikes on no news that have started to really pop up in the last week or so,” he said in an email to CBC News. 

“So to me, these moves are more about market sentiment, relative performance, and supply/demand issues rather than fundamental news.”

Kerwin agrees that there are no fundamental changes to BlackBerry’s business that properly explain the price surge.

The interior of a Mercedes-Benz is seen at the Blackberry Ltd. QNX headquarters. The company has invested heavily in self-driving technology, which is helping to fuel the company’s stock surge. (Bloomberg)

“We think there’s likely a shift in market sentiment about BlackBerry, perhaps with investors getting more bullish about [their] prospects after the fact. There’s above average trading volume this morning, which might also point to [a] retail investor swell.”

‘Most undervalued stock in the world’

British Columbian Paul Ni is one such retail investor who’s riding that swell. Ni said he first became interested in the company last November, when his due diligence led him to deduce the company was the “most undervalued stock in the world.”

He’s active on a Reddit board called wallstreetbets, that boasts nearly two million people, sharing their thoughts on various equities. “How to evaluate a stock is supposed to be done by Wall Street,” he told CBC News in an interview. “But now we already dig it out.”

He bought at around $6 a share. Despite the company being almost five times higher than that, he has no plans to sell any time soon because he thinks more people are realizing the value of the company’s automotive technology. The company is currently worth $12 billion since its run-up, but Li says it should be worth $50 billion or more.

“We are very proactive about discovering value,” Li says of his fellow investing Redditors.

Gottlieb notes that BlackBerry isn’t the only company being pushed up by the sudden trend. “This is not a single stock story; it is a behavioural story.”

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