“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019-20 season beginning with tonight’s games,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
The National Hockey League Players’ Association called the decision “an appropriate course of action at this time.”
The NHL decision comes less than 24 hours after the NBA suspended its schedule “until further notice” in the wake of its first player testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Bettman cited the NBA’s decision as a factor in suspending the NHL season.
“It now seems more likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point,” Bettman said. “It is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”
The NBA cancelled a game in progress on Wednesday night between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz after Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
The Toronto Raptors announced on Thursday that players, coaches and travelling staff have been advised to go into self-isolation for the next two weeks.
“Out of an abundance of caution, members of the Raptors travelling party have been tested for the virus,” the team said in a statement.
Many NHL teams share their home arena with an NBA team, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Raptors.
Bettman said the NHL is encouraging members of its community to “take all reasonable precautions — including self-quarantine, where appropriate.”
The NHL announcement came a few hours after the league told teams to cancel practices and meetings.
“Given the uncertainty regarding next steps regarding the coronavirus, clubs are advised not to conduct morning skates or team meetings today,” the NHL’s public relations account tweeted on Thursday morning.
Bettman says the league will resume play “as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”
The Canadian Hockey League and the American Hockey League put their own seasons on hold later on Thursday.
The NHL’s move is one of several high-profile event cancellations across North America. A number of major concerts, conferences, political rallies, festivals and sporting events have been nixed amid concerns that the virus might spread among large crowds of people.
Health officials in the U.S. and Canada have recommended that people avoid large crowds and crowded spaces when possible.
An NHL arena can seat between 15,000 and 21,000 fans, depending on the venue.
More than 127,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide since the outbreak started in late December. The disease has killed more than 4,700 people, including one in Canada.
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and, if you do, contact public health authorities.
What is social distancing?
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
— With files from the Associated Press
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