Public health safeguards are key to Edmonton pitch to be NHL hub city: Kenney

Alberta’s premier is confident there would be enough safety measures to guard against a resurgence in COVID-19 cases if Edmonton was to become a hub city for the remainder of the NHL season.

On Wednesday, Jason Kenney announced new border measures that will require international travellers arriving in Alberta to submit to a temperature check and to have a 14-day self-isolation plan in place.

Kenney said those measures, combined with the brand-new hotel attached to Rogers Place arena in downtown Edmonton, provide a strong measure of defence against new cases of the virus being unknowingly unleashed in the city.

“As international travellers — whether they’re Canadian citizens, Alberta residents, Russians, Americans, it doesn’t matter — they’ll all have to go through the same screening protocols,” Kenney said Wednesday.

But the cherry on the top of the bid is the JW Marriott Hotel, which opened in August, he added. 

The Ice District hotel has 346 rooms, fitness studio, pool, restaurants and a direct walkway to Rogers Place Arena. 

“The best part of the Edmonton bid is this — we’ve got the most modern and best arena in the league … that is connected by walkway to a brand-new hotel, with hundreds of rooms and so there can be a self-isolation zone, in principle, between where they’re staying and where they might be practising and playing,” he said.

The Wayne Gretzky statue outside Rogers Place sports a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The league suspended its season March 12 and is now eyeing a format to complete it with an improvised playoff scenario. One possibility is a tournament of 24 teams spread over two hub cities.

The Edmonton Oilers have been working with the Alberta government and the city on a proposal to be a host city. 

On Wednesday, Kenney said the federal government has been consulted and agrees in principle with the idea of a designated isolation zone for players and other team personnel that could be coming into the city.

It’s likely that the teams would have “supplementary or even redundant” health measures in place for its players and support staff, he said. 

Kenney expects to be discussing the issue later this week with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has sent a letter to Bettman endorsing the plan, noting in it that the city shares the league’s commitment to ensuring the health and safety of citizens and team personnel alike.

“We view Edmonton, with its colourful hockey history, as an ideal location to host the balance of the NHL’s 2019-20 season,” Iveson wrote in the May 13 letter. 

“In the North American context, Edmonton and the surrounding region have experienced low COVID-19 infection numbers and are taking prudent steps to begin a cautious and safe reopening.”

Alberta hotels were declared an essential service by the provincial government at the start of the pandemic but have been struggling financially. In early April, an industry survey estimated that more than 90 per cent of hotel staff had been laid off.

Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley said she would be more than happy “to temporarily reach across the aisle” to join with Kenney “to do whatever is necessary to convince the powers that be to let Edmonton be one of those hubs because I think it would be great.”

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