Toronto Maple Leafs welcome near-capacity crowd for first time since pandemic
Published Wednesday, October 13, 2021 5:42PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 13, 2021 11:37PM EDT
The Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed back thousands of fans for their home opener at Scotiabank Arena Wednesday night – the first time they played to a nearly at-capacity home crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The home opener comes days after the Ontario government lifted capacity restrictions for many large venues such as sports arenas and movie theatres.
Those in attendance at the 20,000-person capacity arena still had to show proof that they were fully vaccinated and wear masks except when eating or drinking.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Leafs, said they would be doing their best to enforce the rules.
“It is a requirement to be wearing a mask at an indoor event or an outdoor event, other than when you're actively eating or drinking. So certainly, when fans are in the stands, obviously they're eating and drinking sometimes and not other times,” Nick Eaves, MLSE’s chief venues and operations officer told CP24 Tuesday. “So we've been enforcing it. It's not easy, I'll be the first to admit, because obviously in an environment like this where fans are thrilled to be back doing what they love to do, sometimes they forget. But we've taken it very seriously. We have more staff in the building who are enforcing it.”
Fans who made the home opener were treated to victory, with the Leafs defeating the rival Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in what was the season opener for both teams.
“We’re pretty big fans, but we’re most looking forward to just getting out of the house and finally being back to go see a game,” one fan told CP24 outside of the arena Wednesday.
Another Leafs fan said he’s excited to go to the game, but isn’t sure what to expect.
“I have no idea what to expect. I just hope it’s like old times, but really no clue. Just hoping for the best.”
While the loosened capacity restrictions might please sports fans, it has raised the ire of restaurants, which still have to maintain capacity restrictions that allow for physical distancing.
The province has said that it will “continue to bring stakeholder feedback” to the chief medical officer of health when it comes to restrictions.
'ACTIVE DISCUSSIONS' UNDERWAY ABOUT OTHER VENUES
Speaking with CP24 Wednesday evening, Toronto’s medical officer of health said the return of the Leafs offers a “much needed boost” for many in the city and that health restrictions should mean the venue remains safe.
“We know that in these settings where people are required to show proof of vaccination, that that certainly lowers the risk, as does the continuation of the public health measures that we know make a difference; Staying home if you're symptomatic, making sure that you're wearing your mask as much as possible, particularly when you're in those settings with lots of other people, and maintaining distancing as much as you can, again within reason as you're out and about enjoying teams like the Leafs etc.,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said.
She added that there are “active discussions” underway about whether capacity restrictions could be loosened in other areas.
“This kind of thing also would clearly apply to other venues and it's my understanding that the province is actively looking at what other settings might increased capacities be brought to next as we watch and monitor,” she said.
She added that the results of the Thanksgiving weekend will be watched closely to see if there are any spikes in transmission.
ROAD CLOSURES IN EFFECT
A number of road closures are in effect in order to accommodate the game.
Raptors Way and York Street are both closed to vehicular traffic.
Toronto police also noted in a release that there are no planned events around the arena before or after the game.
“Any event that may take place is not authorized, nor approved, by the Toronto Police Service or Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment,” police said.
People may also notice an enhanced security presence in the area, police said.