OTTAWA - Hours after revealing details of a plan to allow 6,000 fans to attend home games during the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner of the Ottawa Senators said now is not the time to invite people to watch games live.

Eugene Melnyk released a statement on Tuesday, saying the team is continuing to work on a plan to watch the Senators in person — "but only when the time is right."

"That time is not now," Melnyk wrote.

"Given the ongoing increase in daily COVID-19 cases and new measurements being introduced by the Government of Ontario to combat the spread of COVID-19, we understand as an organization that we must do our part to control this virus before we can entertain plans to bring fans back into our arena."

"I appreciate Mr. Melnyk saying that," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said at a press conference Tuesday. "I think most people would agree cramming 6,000 people into one confined space is not a good idea at this time."

Earlier, Melynk said that his "robust public safety plan" includes "health protocols ranging from proper physical distancing, rapid testing and mask-wearing at all times" inside the Canadian Tire Centre.

Melnyk's plan would see about one-third of the arena's seats used.

Melynk deleted the Twitter post hours later, though a reference to his plan, with a link to a recent newspaper article detailing the proposal, remained on his website.

The original tweet and subsequent statement came on the same day Ontario released a stay-at-home order, which takes effect Thursday.

The NHL season opens Wednesday night with all seven Canadian teams in one division and only playing each other, avoiding cross-border travel.

None of the seven Canadian teams will have any fans inside arenas to start the season.

Ottawa's home opener is Friday.

Asked about Melnyk's proposal, Canada's deputy public health officer Howard Njoo said it falls outside federal jurisdiction now that Canadian teams will not be crossing the border.

"I would certainly defer to local public health authorities," he said.

Ottawa Public Health said in an email to The Canadian Press that the NHL return-to-play plan it reviewed did not include plans for fans to attend games at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Currently in Ontario, indoor organized public events and social gatherings are not allowed except with members of the same household.

The NHL expects three American teams — the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes — to begin the season with a limited number of fans in their respective arenas.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins are other potential candidates, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have the OK from local authorities, but announced over the weekend they'll play in front of an empty building for the foreseeable future.

The league relies on fans attending games for roughly 50 per cent of its traditional revenue. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the league expects to suffer billion-dollar losses this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.

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