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Sporting events could be restricted for up to 12 weeks if coronavirus worsens

Prime minister Boris Johnson held a press conference on Tuesday
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Action to contain the spread of coronavirus if it worsens could include restrictions on public gatherings like sporting events for up to 12 weeks, the British government outlined in its action plan on Tuesday.

However, prime minister Boris Johnson said there were no immediate plans to introduce such measures, heightening confidence that the Cheltenham Festival, which starts in seven days, will go ahead as scheduled.

That was reflected in the Betfair exchange market on whether racing will go ahead at Cheltenham, with the price of the festival not starting on March 10 drifting out to 5.4 at 4pm on Tuesday and the price on racing going ahead down to 1.22. The amount traded on the market was approaching £1.8 million.

But the spread of coronavirus is "more likely than not" according to the government, with health secretary Matt Hancock revealing the number of confirmed cases in Britain had risen to 51 as of 9am on Tuesday.

Should those numbers continue to rise, events like the Grand National, Guineas meeting, Derby and Royal Ascot would come into focus if restrictions on sporting events are imposed. 

The action plan said a peak in coronavirus could lead to a fifth of Britain's workforce being off sick. Racing employs more than 17,000 people according to the BHA's recruitment operation Careers in Racing.

Read the government's action plan

The action plan sets out how the government will deal with coronavirus through a series of phases, and the cancellation of large-scale events is considered one of the more extreme actions, should the disease become established in Britain.

The plan reads: "Action that would be considered could include population distancing strategies (such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large-scale gatherings) to slow the spread of the disease throughout the population."

Such actions will be taken by the government in accordance with medical and scientific advice, and when questioned on the matter, Johnson said at the press conference: "The principle that will guide us in these decisions will be scientific advice.

Coronavirus and racing: will the Cheltenham Festival be affected?

"When it comes to calculating the tradeoff between efficacy and disruption it's the science that will help us take the decision."

While no sporting events were specifically discussed, Johnson was questioned whether plans for VE Day, scheduled for Friday, May 8 could be scaled back in light of the virus. Johnson repeated decisions on specific events have not been taken.

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The principle that will guide us in these decisions will be scientific advice
E.W. Terms