Industry group set up to ensure racing is prepared for coronavirus
The potential of a threat to racing from coronavirus has sparked the creation of a special group to ensure the sport is at the maximum state of readiness with the Cheltenham Festival 13 days away.
While specific contingency plans for racing’s biggest and most lucrative event are yet to be made, a racing industry steering group comprised of representatives from the BHA, Racecourse Association and horsemen is considering the implications on the sport of the coronavirus outbreak.
The virus has spread from China with significant outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy, where 11 have died and several towns are on lockdown. Scotland women's Six Nations match in Italy last Sunday was cancelled and four Serie A games are set to be played behind closed doors this weekend.
Whether a similar outbreak in Britain could lead to the postponement or cancellation of sporting events has yet to be determined, but Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, on Tuesday said the NHS would implement similar tactics to those used in Italy if necessary.
She said: "If we do have a cluster, as has happened in Italy, then we move into delaying the spread.
"Delaying the spread would mean some of the measures that have happened already in Italy – stopping people coming together in large groups so that one or a few individuals do not spread to many, many more around them."
The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday it was too early to call the outbreak a pandemic but countries should be "in a phase of preparedness".
The virus originated in China and causes respiratory disease covid-19 which has led to more than 2,000 deaths in that country. Cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in around 30 other countries with more than 20 deaths.
The threat of coronavirus was discussed at Monday’s annual meeting between the BHA and Cheltenham ahead of next month's festival, which more than a quarter of a million people from around the world are set to attend.
Racing's tripartite group has already met and has agreed to follow government guidance around preventing the spread of the virus. As a first measure that guidance has been shared around the racing industry.
The steering group will work with the government but does not see a need to develop a policy regarding abandonment of fixtures at this time.
In theory if fixtures are cancelled or abandoned then there is the possibility to restage them at a later date, but there are no specific contingency plans in place for any fixtures at this time, including Cheltenham.
RCA racecourse services director Caroline Davies said: "A tripartite group has been set up and we're taking our lead from the government, being responsible business and employers."
For the second day running share prices in some betting companies reflected a slump in global stock markets due to fears the virus may cause economic damage.
The FTSE 100 Index hit a one-year closing low and William Hill shares ended down 5.1 per cent. Shares in GVC holdings, owners of Ladbrokes and Coral, fell by 1.6 per cent.
Shares in Flutter Entertainment, which has Paddy Power and Betfair under its umbrella, dipped by 0.97 percent. The Stars Group, which owns Sky Bet, fell 2.78 per cent.
There has been no direct impact on racing in Britain or Ireland but the outbreak has affected meetings in south-east Asia.
Hong Kong has taken extreme measures to prevent the potential for spreading the virus at Happy Valley and Sha Tin race meetings, while betting shops in the territory were closed this month with immediate effect in a move to help combat the spread of the illness, and racing has now been halted in South Korea.
Last week's Asian Racing Conference in South Africa also had a depleted presence from the organisers' most heavily populated jurisdictions.
All delegates from mainland China who had registered for the event agreed to stay away and the HKJC severely restricted its delegation at the conference.
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