Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

Senators say owner Eugene Melnyk will pay part-time arena staff during pandemic

The Ottawa Senators say owner Eugene Melnyk has now “personally pledged” to pay part-time arena staff impacted by the suspension of the NHL season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senators were the last of Canada’s seven teams to outline plans to help casual workers, saying in a press release late Monday that the needs of employees would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

But in another statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the club said Melnyk has “personally pledged to pay part-time and hourly workers the income they would have otherwise received during the suspension of play due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting state of emergency in Ontario.”

The Senators had four games left on their home schedule at the Canadian Tire Centre when the NHL went on hiatus last week.

The move by Melnyk also includes non-NHL events at Ottawa’s suburban arena through April 4. Two concerts and a visit by the Harlem Globetrotters were also scrubbed as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Senators added that part-time arena staff working for the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville, Ont., would also be paid for lost shifts through the end of the regular-season and the first round of the playoffs.

The issue of paying part-time arena workers became a hot topic on social media over the weekend after both the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets said they wouldn’t foot the bill.

Both clubs eventually backtracked in the wake of strong public criticism.

The Toronto Maple Leafs — along with the NBA’s Raptors and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer under the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment banner — pledged Friday to assist workers.

The Vancouver Canucks unveiled plans similar to the Senators’ original program the same day. The Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers followed suit with programs over their own over the weekend before the Flames and Jets changed course.

Meanwhile, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL’s Redblacks and 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, has 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.

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 need 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 many other professional sports organizations, have halted operations amid the widening coronavirus spread that’s drastically altered daily life across North America and resulted in at least 440 confirmed cases in Canada, including five reported deaths.

Globally, there are more than 180,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Most people diagnosed 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.

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