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Senators announce plan to help part-time arena staff amid COVID-19 shutdown

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The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets eventually backtracked.

The Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, wound up following the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks in establishing programs to help part-time arena workers affected by the NHL shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Senators finally announced their plans Monday night.

While Canada's other NHL six teams laid out plans of varying degrees and scope to assist casual staff as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, Ottawa remained silent on an issue that garnered significant social media interest over the weekend.

A team spokesperson said Friday that a question from The Canadian Press on the subject would be forwarded to the appropriate department. A response to a subsequent message from CP stated that any information would be provided "as soon as we have it."

That came late Monday in a press release outlining an initiative that will assess the needs of casual staff on a case-by-case basis.

"These programs will help any part-time employee who requires support to avoid financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic," the statement read. "We will be working with every individual and evaluating every individual need to minimize the impact on those employees."

The plan is similar to the one Canucks Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena, announced last week.

The Senators had three more home games scheduled at the Canadian Tire Centre in March to go along with another in April. Two concerts have been cancelled or postponed, while a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters was also scrubbed.

Capital Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Senators and the arena, also commended employees across the company for their work during the outbreak.

"Staff have continued to show grit and determination throughout this challenging time," the statement continued.

The Flames and Jets initially said they wouldn't pay part-time employees anything during the unprecedented hiatus, but eventually changed their respective tunes Sunday in the wake of heavy public criticism.

Flames players Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett and Zac Rinaldo, along with the wives of TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, all contributed to an online fund set up by a former Scotiabank Saddledome worker before the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the team and operates the arena, stepped up with what it called an "income bridge support program for qualifying employees."

Canadiens players also announced Monday they are helping arena staff financially. The team said in a statement that players will offset the difference between the measures announced by the club for employees and the compensation the employees would have otherwise received.

The Jets initially got the most heat on the issue following Truth North Sports and Entertainment executive chairman Mark Chipman's comments last week that casual workers were out of luck during the global pandemic.

"Those people are on part-time agreements," Chipman said Thursday. "They work when we work. So, regrettably, to the extent that we're not putting on shows and games, those people obviously would not have a call to work."

The Jets, who also own the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, doubled-down on Chipman's comments in a letter sent Saturday to part-time staff at Bell MTS Place, but relented 24 hours later with a subsequent correspondence that said all employees impacted would be paid in full until the end of March.

Chipman concluded Sunday's email by adding Truth North "sincerely apologizes for any concern that our original position may have caused."

The Canadiens and Oilers laid out their plans Saturday following announcements from the Leafs — under the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment banner with the NBA's Raptors and Major League Soccer's Toronto FC — and the Canucks on Friday.

The Leafs, Raptors, TFC, MLB's Blue Jays and the CFL's Argonauts have also created the "Team Toronto Fund" designed to further assist arena, stadium and support staff should they be in need of extra financial assistance due to the outbreak.

A number of professional teams south of the border, including many NHL clubs, have set up similar programs, with some NBA stars — including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson and Kevin Love — putting up their own money.

The NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS and CFL, along with the AHL and other professional sports organizations, have halted operations amid the widening coronavirus spread that's drastically altered daily life across North America and killed more than 6,500 people worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control in the United States recommended Sunday that organizers cancel or postpone in-person events consisting of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, meaning that in the best-case scenario leagues might be able to return to action is mid-May.

Canada, meanwhile, announced Monday it is closing its borders to most foreign nationals except Americans, and barring anyone, including Canadian citizens, with coronavirus symptoms from boarding flights to this country, which now has more than 400 confirmed cases.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk to the general population is low.

But for some, including those 65 years of age and over, those with compromised immune systems or those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness, so far fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.

While the Senators were slow to indicate what they and owner Eugene Melnyk planned to do for part-time arena employees, their sporting neighbours unveiled plans over the weekend.

Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL's Redblacks and 67's of the Ontario Hockey League, said it will pay workers for three postponed OHL games and any other events that were scheduled at TD Place until at least March 27.

Canucks Sports and Entertainment also announced Monday that they will be donating over 2,000 pounds of perishable food to members of the community in need through the Salvation Army and Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press




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