LONDON – Spectators will no longer be allowed to attend sporting events in England after concerns about a rise in coronavirus infections forced the government to delay the partial reopening of venues until at least Aug. 15.
Small groups of fans were due to attend horse racing, cricket and snooker in the coming days as part of pilot events with coronavirus prevention measures but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reversed course on Friday.
“Very disappointing news that with rise in infection rates we cannot press ahead with sports pilots with fans this weekend I know the huge efforts cricket, snooker & horseracing have made to welcome fans back,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted. “We’ll keep working together on their safe return asap.”
A cricket match in London between Surrey and Middlesex at The Oval was attended by up to 1,000 people earlier this week, with a two-seat gap between family groups of a maximum of six.
Two further cricket matches in London and Birmingham were due to be part of the government scheme piloting the return of fans ahead of a planned wider re-opening of venues from October.
“We understand this is disappointing for supporters who have waited a long time to see their clubs in action," the England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement. “However, we understand the reasons the government has made this decision, and remain ready to work with them to ensure supporters can safely return to stadiums when government advice allows."
As Johnson made the announcement from Downing Street, some spectators were already in place at the world snooker championship in Sheffield in northern England. The Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival on Saturday was also due to be part of the scheme with 4,000 spectators allowed.
“We understand that concern about the national infection rate is the primary reason,” the British Horseracing Authority said, “and as a result all pilots of larger crowds in sporting venues will be postponed until at least Aug. 15."
The government also scrapped plans to allow venues such as casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks to open on Monday.
Scientists say they are no longer confident the R number, which measures how many people each infected person passes the disease on to, is below 1 in England. A number above 1 means the virus will exponentially spread.
The Irish Cup final was still due to be staged on Friday night with up to 500 fans at Windsor Park in Belfast because the decision rests with the Northern Ireland Executive rather than the Westminster-based British government.