Some restrictions will remain in place on racecourses until at least July 19 after the Government announced a four-week delay to the planned relaxation of Covid-19 measures in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had intended to lift restrictions on June 21, but that date has been pushed back due to a rise in cases linked to the Delta variant of the virus.
He told a Downing Street press conference that the spread of the Delta variant meant “we have obviously faced a very difficult choice”.
“We can simply keep going with all of Step 4 on June 21, even though there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided,” he said.
“Or else we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.
“And since today I cannot say that that we have met all our four tests for proceeding with Step 4 on June 21, I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”
Racecourses are currently permitted to have a crowd of 4,000 people, or 50 per cent capacity, whichever number is lower.
This week’s Royal Ascot meeting will have up to 12,000 spectators a day though, as it is part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP).
Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said: “While it is disappointing that plans for the relaxation of restrictions and the further return of spectators have been delayed, we of course understand the principle that Government’s decisions should be evidence-based and public health must come first.
“Many of our racegoers will be frustrated by this delay, but we are doing all we can to work with national and local authorities to maximise the number of people allowed to attend race-meetings in safety”.
David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), said: “Naturally we are disappointed to hear of a delay to stage four of the routemap to recovery but acknowledge it has been activated due to public health concerns. It is important to note that this will have a significant commercial effect on racecourses that had sold many thousands of tickets for events after 21st June—we estimate a loss of between £15m and £20m due to a four week delay.
“The industry will continue to press hard for racecourses to receive the same 10,000 capacity limits as seated stadia. Whilst this will lessen the hit it is still far from commercially viable in what is the peak season for welcoming spectators.”
Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), said: “The delayed relaxation of restrictions announced by Government is naturally deeply concerning for all those businesses and industries that operate events led businesses.
"British racing has worked hard with Government officials to ensure that we continued behind closed doors and, whilst this has been of benefit to all participants and stakeholders, including bookmakers, we recognise the rationale for Government to delay the further relaxation of restrictions and the eagerly awaited return of spectators.”
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