CHELTENHAM, England (AP) — 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 to spread the coronavirus more widely around Britain.

Tens of thousands of people attended the four-day event in southwest England as no government social distancing measures were in place at the time.

Sporting events were being canceled elsewhere in Europe at the time but it was only as the Festival was reaching its conclusion that the English Premier League was halted. A national lockdown was imposed later in the month by the government in a bid to contain the pandemic.

There is no data on the number of people who contracted the coronavirus who also attended the Festival. But there have been a few reports of racegoers saying they later had COVID-19 symptoms.

Cheltenham organizers have insisted the event “went ahead under the government’s ongoing guidance throughout,” pointing out other sports continued in Britain at the time.

“It’s simply not possible to know how and where someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 has contracted it,” said Dr. Sue Smith, the Festival’s senior racecourse medical officer. “The standards of hand wash and hygiene at the Festival were of the highest level and all measures were taken in accordance with daily updates from Public Health England.”


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