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Johnson unveils plan for easing lockdown but racing's return remains unclear

British racing: still waiting for government approval to resume
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British racing's restart date remained uncertain on Sunday evening after the prime minister unveiled his plan to ease the coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking from Downing Street, Boris Johnson detailed a three-part strategy to reopen society and end the lockdown. The UK is working towards the second stage and the government has eased some social restrictions, including the limit on outdoor exercise. 

Calling the plan "conditional" on keeping the virus under control, Johnson added that the second phase will potentially allow primary school pupils to return to school from June 1 and the third would allow some areas of the hospitality industry, such as restaurants, to begin reopening from July 1. 

It is unclear at which phase racing could be allowed to return and the prospect of resumption will be subject to discussions this coming week.

Johnson said: "It's now almost two months since the people of this country began to put up with restrictions on their freedom – your freedom – of a kind that we have never seen before in peace or war.

"We have made progress, but this is not the time to end lockdown. Instead, we're taking the first careful steps to modify our measures."

A total of 31,855 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK, an increase of 269 from Saturday, and medical experts remain confident that the infection rate, or R rate, is below one, meaning on average anyone infected with the virus passes it on to less than one other person.

This has allowed the government to begin moving towards the next phase of easing its lockdown measures, which will rely on an alert system ranking the threat level of the virus across the country. 

As part of the first phase of easing social restrictions, Johnson has encouraged people who cannot work from home, such as those in construction, to feel comfortable returning to employment. 

While advising people to still stay at home whenever possible, the government also introduced a softened slogan, telling the public to "stay alert, control the virus, save lives", although this new guidance has not been adopted in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. 

The return of sport

The resumption of racing group will meet on Monday to consider its next steps after Johnson failed to reference the return of professional sport, despite it previously being suggested that it would be one of the first sectors allowed to resume if the lockdown was eased. 

Racing representatives engaged in a number of meetings with government officials last week about its detailed proposals for a resumption behind closed doors. 

Consultation continues to take place with jockeys and racecourses to ensure the sport can return safely when it is given the green light.

On Thursday, the resumption of racing group published a provisional race programme for the first week of action, having rescheduled Pattern races and setting a number of restrictions including 12-runner fields and the initial participation of only experienced jockeys.

The group has resisted setting a date for the return of the sport but was believed to be working towards a May 15 restart, with tracks including Newcastle and Kempton reportedly set to stage the first wave of fixtures, which will be divided regionally. 

However, it is understood the process of deciding which tracks can host meetings in the first seven days of racing remains ongoing.

The protocols for racing behind closed doors are also being refined by Dr Jerry Hill, the BHA's chief medical adviser, who has liaised with the team of the government's chief medical officer and worked with representatives of other sports to shape the sport's resumption plan.

PJA chief executive Paul Struthers

Appearing on Luck on Sunday, Paul Struthers, the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, said: "There are a number of matters that need to be finalised but the work is really advanced.

"I was a little sceptical of the initial date that came out [May 15] because the general message from trainers is that when they know a date, their horses are probably a week or two away from a run.

"I suspect there will be more conversations behind closed doors with government representatives on Monday. It's important we get all areas of the economy going. Racing is not a special case but it's a massive industry, particularly within rural communities. 

"We can be hopeful of being able to resume before the end of the month or the start of June. You're almost certainly not going to start on a Bank Holiday [May 25] so somewhere between May 26 and June 1 would hopefully be realistic. That would incidentally coincide with the UK being two weeks behind France."

Racing has already resumed in Europe with Germany restarting on Thursday. France will follow suit on Monday and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is hopeful the sport can return before June 29, which was outlined by the government as the point at which behind-closed-doors sporting events will resume.

Read more:

Saunas and showers to be banned as jockeys face big changes when racing returns

Syndicates body does not want owners left behind when racing returns

Here's how racing behind closed doors works in three different countries

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We have made progress, but this is not the time to end lockdown. Instead, we're taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.
E.W. Terms