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Baseball: Exemption allows Blue Jays to return home, but for how long

(Reuters) - The Toronto Blue Jays will return home to the Rogers Centre for training camp after the Major League Baseball team was granted an exemption by the Canadian government on Thursday but where they will play their COVID-19 shortened regular season remains uncertain.

With the border to the U.S. closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21, anyone entering Canada must self-isolate for 14 days.

Under such restrictions it would be impossible for the Blue Jays to cross into the U.S. and return home and opposing teams to enter Canada for games without government and public health approval at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

“There are a host of travel related and logistical issues that create complexities we still need to work through to satisfy particularly Public Health Canada,” said Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro during a conference call. “We’ll look to do that in the next week.

“I think it is probably pretty important we get some clarity on where we are going to be playing our games in the next seven to 10 days.”

Shapiro made it clear the club’s first preference would be to play regular season home games at the Rogers Centre but they are exploring other potential site options if they are unable to secure the necessary government approvals.

The Blue Jays had been in limbo as they gathered at their Spring Training base in Dunedin, Florida, one of the U.S. states that has seen a dramatic spike in novel coronavirus cases.

The club said players and team personnel were completing intake screening in Dunedin and will take private charter flights to Toronto this weekend.

On arriving in Toronto the team will train at the Rogers Centre and live in a hotel attached to the domed stadium.

MLB and its players’ association last month agreed to a shortened 60-game season.

Training camps began to open on July 1 with the season set to start on either July 23 or 24.

Shapiro conceded that the MLB plan is not without risks, particularly with the increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is worth the gamble.

“This entire plan would not be one without any risk, we all understood that coming in,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think we could do it anymore safely than we are doing it.”

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond

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