Coronavirus: Calls for inquiry on Cheltenham Festival go-ahead

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About 150,000 people attended the annual four-day festival in March

There are calls for an investigation into whether the Cheltenham horse racing festival should have gone ahead, due to concerns it may have led to a high number of local coronavirus cases.

About 150,000 people attended the four-day event in March, which ended 10 days before lockdown measures began.

A former director of Public Health in the region said it should not have gone ahead, and lessons must be learned.

The government has defended its decision not to cancel the festival.

Prof Gabriel Scally, former director of public health in the south west and visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol, said there "seemed to be" a high number of virus cases in Gloucestershire.

"I think it's very tempting to link it to the Cheltenham Festival," he said.

"Really from a health point of view [it] should have been stopped in advance."

Government data shows there have been 972 cases of the virus in Gloucestershire, and 147 people have died.

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Image caption,
Prof Scally said the event should have been called off

Earlier this week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden defended his decision at the time to not cancel sporting events such as the festival.

"The risk at mass gatherings was no greater or less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants, and the advice at that point was that we did not need to ban mass gatherings," he said.

Tewkesbury's Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, whose constituency Cheltenham Racecourse is in, and who attended this year's festival, said there should not be a public inquiry specifically into the event taking place.

"No, I don't think there should be," he said.

"There should be an inquiry into the whole handling of coronavirus at an international level."

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