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Blue Jays' return to Canada 'trending in a very good direction': Njoo

OTTAWA — Canada's deputy chief public health officer says the Toronto Blue Jays' return to Canadian soil is "trending in a very good direction." Dr.

OTTAWA — Canada's deputy chief public health officer says the Toronto Blue Jays' return to Canadian soil is "trending in a very good direction."

Dr. Howard Njoo says there has been "a lot of good back-and-forth" between the Blue Jays organization and the government over the team's application for a so-called "National Interest Exemption" to Canada's COVID-19 travel restrictions.

But in a virtual news conference Thursday, Njoo said he couldn't provide a date on when an announcement would be made.

"We're looking at, I would say, last details. But at this point I would say there aren't any showstoppers or anything that we really can't continue to discuss and move forward on," Njoo said.

"So I can't give you a date in terms of when a possible decision would be made for the NIE or national interest exemption, but I would say that in terms of the discussions from a public health perspective, they've been going very well."

A government official familiar with the talks told The Associated Press that the Jays wouldn't find out by this weekend whether they will get permission from Ottawa to play at Rogers Centre soon.

A team spokeswoman said the club continues to work with the federal government toward moving from their temporary home in Buffalo, N.Y., and playing games at home starting July 30th.

The Blue Jays' last game at Rogers Centre was on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay. They have not been based at the 49,000-seat facility in any capacity in a year.

Although the Canadian government allowed the Blue Jays to host their summer training camp in Toronto last July before the shortened 2020 season, a request to play regular-season games north of the border was denied. 

That left the Blue Jays scrambling to find a solution just days before the season opener. Toronto played on the road for more than two weeks before moving to Buffalo, the home of their triple-A affiliate.

This season, the Blue Jays started play at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., before returning to Buffalo's Sahlen Field on June 1.

The Blue Jays return from the all-star break on Friday, when they start a three-game series with the Texas Rangers in Buffalo.

The Jays open a three-game home series with visiting Kansas City on July 30. The venue is listed as "TBD" on the Major League Baseball website.

Ottawa gave the NHL a travel exemption for the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs and recently approved a plan that allowed CFL players and staff to return to Canada without undergoing a full 14-day quarantine.

Major League Soccer teams Toronto FC and CF Montreal plan to host games against U.S.-based opponents this weekend. While a quarantine exemption has not been granted to MLS, a statement from Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office issued Wednesday said fully vaccinated athletes with work permits can enter the country without completing a 14-day quarantine.

— with files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press