Matt Hancock publicly defends Cheltenham Festival decision

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has publicly defended the decision to allow Cheltenham Festival to take place, reiterating that the government ‘took the right measures at the right time’.

Speaking on a phone-in on LBC Radio, Hancock was asked by a Cheltenham resident whether the festival should have taken place and whether the government would be committing to a future inquiry of its strategy of handling the outbreak.

Hancock, whose constituency includes Newmarket, said: “There will be time for a review of [the science], won’t there? And I have absolutely no doubt the sort of review called for will happen, and quite rightly as we need to learn in case there are future pandemics like this.

“We followed the scientific advice and were guided by that science. Broadly, I think we took the right measures at the right time. We were ahead of many other countries in Europe in terms of when we took the measures and that’s what you’ve got to do in these circumstances, acting with imperfect information as we are all the way through it and learning.”

The decision for the four-day festival to go ahead has attracted wide-ranging criticism of the government and UK racing, with critics suggesting that the event had contributed to the spread of the virus across the UK and Ireland.

Earlier this month, the government’s deputy Chief Medical Officer, Angela McLean, called for an inquiry to take place once the lockdown has ended, focusing upon the ‘epidemiological consequences’ of UK sports maintaining their early March schedules.

This April, British Horseracing Authority (BHA) CEO Nick Rust backed the decision to go ahead with the Festival, emphasising that the decision had been made in accordance with information provided by the government.

Rust said: “All of the Government’s scientific advice, and indeed that of the chief medical officers within the BHA and RCA (Racecourse Association), was that based on all the advice on all the Government advice and based on where we were that Cheltenham could go ahead.

“There were massive calls to listen to Government advice, don’t move away from that Government advice, there is no reason why you should not be carrying on and you must carry on because we need to make sure Government advice is followed.”

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