The Cheltenham Festival organisers have said that Boris Johnson’s trip to the England versus Wales rugby match was one reason they did not cancel the race meeting, it has been revealed today.
The four-day, that attracts 250,000 people, went ahead just two weeks before the lockdown on March 23, but there was a huge debate at the time if it should be scrapped after other large sporting events were called off.
But organisers The Jockey Club have insisted the festival ‘went ahead under Government guidance’ and that other sporting events also took place before and during the festival.
A letter to Cheltenham Borough Council highlights that the Prime Minister – who is currently battling the virus in intensive care – attended the England versus Wales rugby match at Twickenham on Saturday March 7, just three days before the start of the festival.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds in the stands during the Guinness Six Nations match at Twickenham Stadium, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 7, 2020. See PA story RUGBYU England. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission
The letter, seen by The Guardian, said: ‘As with events from England v Wales attended by the Prime Minister at Twickenham on Saturday to 10 Premier League games around the country this weekend, the government guidance is for the business of the country to continue as usual, while ensuring we adhere to and promote the latest public health advice.’
It also quoted medical advice from the chief medical officer of Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, who had previously said: ‘There is actually very little impact on virus spread from mass gatherings, particularly if they are in the open air.’
At the time there was huge debate over whether it should have been cancelled, with MailOnline’s Piers Morgan saying he was ‘astonished’ it went ahead, and ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt claiming the Government imposed the lockdown ‘too late’.
But while most of other events were called off by individual sporting bodies, the festival still took place – which has prompted suggestions that Ministers should have done more to ensure all events were called off when the outbreak was in its infancy.
Andrew Parker Bowles (left) with Zara Tindall (centre and The Princess Royal (right) on day one of the Cheltenham Festival
Comedian Lee Mack is thought to have contracted coronavirus at the Cheltenham Festival. The 51-year-old star is pictured at a previous event in Gloucestershire on March 17, 2016
Since the festival took place hundreds of people have complained of getting symptoms of the deadly virus.
Camilla’s ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles is one of many thought to have caught the virus at the event held from March 10 and 13, including comedian Lee Mack and West Bromwich Albion footballer Charlie Austin.
There are still concerns for members of the Royal Family, with Brigadier Parker Bowles in close contact over two days he spent at the event with Camilla, Princess Anne, her daughter Zara Tindall and son-in-law Mike Tindall.
Racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks has also revealed fears that he got the virus there – as did two racecourse workers, Andrew Maclean and Scott Saunders.
Other celebrity attendees who are believed to be in good health include singer Lily Allen, TV presenter Nick Knowles, actor Ben Miller, cyclist Victoria Pendleton, tennis coach Judy Murray and cricketer Jonny Bairstow and reality TV star Georgia Toffolo.
West Bromwich Albion footballer Charlie Austin (left, pictured with a fan on March 10 at the racecourse) believes he contracted coronavirus at Cheltenham last month
A spokesman for Cheltenham Racecourse told The Guardian: ‘The Festival started more than four weeks ago and only went ahead under the clear and ongoing guidance from the government and its science experts throughout, like other popular sports events at Twickenham and Murrayfield, 10 Premier League matches and the UEFA Champions League at Anfield 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 wash basins.’
MailOnline has also approached the racecourse for comment.
This graphic shows which royals met each other during the Cheltenham Festival, before they held other events thereafter