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People returning from Cheltenham without Covid-19 symptoms will not need to self-isolate, says Harris

“We have followed our own government’s advice very closely indeed,” Ian Renton of the Cheltenham Festival said.

Image: PA

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris said that those who are returning from the Cheltenham Festival will not have to self isolate immediately afterwards, as is the case with those who return from Spain and Italy.

A decision was made to hold the racing event despite the coronavirus pandemic, but Cheltenham has defended that decision, saying that they had followed the UK government’s advice.

There are 590 confirmed cases in the UK, which is in the delay phase of stopping the spread of Covid-19; the UK is not following the same guidance as Ireland in tackling the spread of the coronavirus.

A number of people have expressed concern about the festival going ahead and the spike in cases that may follow as a result – taxi drivers who work at airport are among those voicing their concerns.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier, Harris said “I know it seems counter intuitive to all of us here in Ireland, as we are restricting mass gatherings and the likes, to see such a large one taking place in the UK.

But the public health emergency team did consider this specifically last night, and it is a statement of fact that as of now the UK is not deemed to be an affected area in the same way as Spain or Italy.

Earlier, Harris had said that the Irish government would be advising anyone returning from Italy or Spain to self-isolate for two weeks as a precaution. 

“So what will happen to all people who come back through the airport, including those from Cheltenham, is they will all receive information on things to watch out for in terms of symptoms.”

When asked if there should be restrictions, Harris said that the medical advice is there shouldn’t.

I’ve been really clear on this: not doing something that is politically expedient, but following the public health advice. And that advice is that restricted movements need to apply for people returning from Spain initially, but not currently Cheltenham.

cheltenham-festival-2020-gold-cup-day-cheltenham-racecourse Source: Andrew Matthews

The regional director of the Cheltenham Festival Ian Renton spoke to the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme this morning, and said that hand-sanitizer dispensers had been placed at the festival to help people to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have followed our own government’s advice very closely indeed. We have done everything we could to put on an event of this nature and ensure the environment is right for our racegoers,” he said.

When journalist Melanie Finn, who left the festival after fears that it wasn’t safe, said that these measures were not enough, he said he would look at other measures such as social distancing.

“It is difficult to get people to change the nature of what they do here,” Renton said.

We will see what further measures we can take. We will encourage our racegoers as much as we possibly can to act responsibly. 

Most sporting events at home and abroad have been cancelled or postponed; the Six Nations rugby match between Wales and Scotland had been set to go ahead tomorrow – but was postponed this afternoon.

Last night, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that if the Cheltenham festival was being hosted in Ireland, the government would have advised that it be cancelled.

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