Down Royal fixture to go ahead despite new restrictions in Northern Ireland

Down Royal’s feature meeting at the end of the month will be able to go ahead after elite sports were exempted from new coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland.

The track hosts a major two-day card on October 30 and 31, with the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Chase the highlight of the fixture on the second day of action.

New measures to try to combat the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland will come into force on Friday and remain for four weeks, but while no indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing will be permitted, elite sport has been given an exception.

A new three-tier system came into force in England on Wednesday, with areas designated as medium, high or very high alert, with the toughest measures in place in the latter category, although professional sport has been cleared to continue under all three tiers.

A British Horseracing Authority spokesperson said: “British racing has worked with Public Health England and the UK Government to design detailed Covid-19 secure protocols to allow British racing to continue safely.

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“Those protocols have allowed us to run around 450 fixtures with no evidence of onward transmission of Covid-19 at race meetings to date.

“The decision announced by the Government this week permits professional sport to continue at all three levels of restrictions. With that permission in place, we can continue to operate safely, protecting the health of participants and local communities, across all areas of the country.”

The question of how long sport will have to stay behind closed doors was put to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as he appeared in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Dowden accepts there is a sense of frustration and was asked by Conservative MP Steve Brine about the fact that some indoor performances, including a speaking event with former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger at the London Palladium, have been allowed to take place with socially-distanced crowds, while live sport remains without spectators.

Brine said the apparent contradiction “looks terrible”.

“Of course I accept people’s frustration at the inconsistency there,” the Secretary of State said.

“In relation to sport, we had sports on a path to normality. At that time I was being attacked by the arts for prioritising sports. The next stage was to
have pilots to move to a point from October 1 whereby we would be able to have socially-distanced spectators in stadiums.

“That is what I desperately wanted to happen. But there is very clear evidence from the scientific community that at this stage of the disease, with rapidly
rising infections, we should be imposing restrictions – which we are – not further easements.

“We are doing things that are positively hateful, but the reason we are doing it is to secure public safety.”

On the wider notion of when a return to near normality might be feasible for spectator events, Dowden outlined the potential breakthroughs that may be required, but was in no position to posit a timeline.

“There are three things that could enable this to happen,” he said.

“One is clearly the vaccine…the second is in relation to ‘on day’ testing, so if we got to the point where (we) have the level of testing and the confidence in it.

“The third thing is natural progression of the disease and measures to control it, so we have a confidence that we’ve got it under control and it’s on the right trajectory. Those are all the factors at play which hold me back at this stage from giving that ‘not before’ date.”

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