Cheltenham defends decision to proceed with event

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CHELTENHAM, England — Cheltenham Festival organizers have defended their decision to go ahead with the meeting last month after fears were raised that the mass gathering of people for the annual horse racing event helped spread coronavirus more widely around Britain.

More than 250,000 racegoers attended the four-day event in south-west England, despite the pandemic having forced the cancellation of other major sporting events at the same time.

A number of people have reported on social media that they attended the festival and went on to develop coronavirus symptoms.

However, a spokesperson for Cheltenham Racecourse said: “The Festival concluded three weeks ago and went ahead under the government’s ongoing guidance throughout, like other popular sports events at Murrayfield (rugby union), 10 Premier League (soccer) matches and the UEFA Champions League at Anfield (Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid game) that same week. We promoted the latest public health advice and introduced a range of additional hygiene measures at the event, including hundreds of hand sanitiser dispensers and extra washbasins.”

At the time of the festival, the UK government had not put any social distancing measures in place.

On Friday, a government spokesman said: “It is our absolute priority to protect people’s health and our advice on coronavirus is the result of direct, continuous consultation with medical experts. Cheltenham Festival was operating within clear Public Health England guidance at the time.”