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St Leger Festival to take place behind closed doors for next three days

Thousands of punters headed out to St Leger Festival’s today for the country’s first socially-distanced horse-racing event, only for council bosses to order the final three days take place behind closed doors. 

Around 3,500 people were expected to attend the start of the festival at Doncaster Racecourse today, which had been earmarked as a test to see how visitors can return to sporting events.

Punters are allowed to sit, drink and eat without face coverings on socially distanced benches next to the race track – with the number of visitors expected to rise in the coming days.   

Just before 2.30pm yesterday, health bosses at Doncaster Council confirmed the festival could go ahead, despite concerns over rising coronavirus levels, which have brought a tightening of lockdown measures.

Gates opened for the festival this morning, with punters receiving temperature checks before heading inside the race course. 

Shortly after midday, the council performed a U-turn, as its director of public health, Dr Rupert Suckling, announced the rest of the event will be held behind closed doors ‘on the grounds of public health and public safety’.

Local reaction has been mixed, visitors described the decision as a ‘farce,’ adding the event was ‘very well managed,’ while some have questioned why the event was even allowed to open to the public today.

But others welcomed the move, saying: ‘No one can predict the future and we need to keep safe’.

The decision has thrown doubt over when crowds will return to sporting events, after the horse racing festival was billed as a pilot.  

Punters were queuing outside Doncaster Racecourse as around 3,500 arrived for the first day of the St Leger Festival today – but there will be no visitors tomorrow

Ladies Day was set to take place tomorrow at St Leger's Festival, but the next three days of the pilot horse racing festival, designed as a test to get visitors back at sporting events, will now take place behind closed doors.

Ladies Day was set to take place tomorrow at St Leger’s Festival, but the next three days of the pilot horse racing festival, designed as a test to get visitors back at sporting events, will now take place behind closed doors.

Benches by the course and one-way systems – St Leger’s pilot scheme

Doncaster Racecourse has been divided into smaller zones, to split visitors attending during the four-day event.

Each zone has designated entry and exit points, with punters asked to arrive and depart at different times in order to keep social distancing measures in place. 

Visitors do not need to wear masks when sitting on benches outdoors – which have been spread apart to a safe distance. 

Punters received temperature checks on arrival, with entry points the only place where face coverings were required. 

The festival is operating a one-way system at bookies and toilets.  

As an added layer of protection, social distancing officers, along with stewards at the course, will be patrolling to ensure visitors are sticking to coronavirus rules. 

In a statement, Dr Suckling said: ‘The current rate of infection for the borough currently stands at 10.6 infections per 100,000 people which I have been updated on today and this is an increase due to a range of factors including an increase in testing and a lag in the test results coming in.

‘Therefore on the grounds of public health and public safety I have instructed the racecourse to hold the St Leger Festival behind closed doors from tomorrow. The day’s racing will continue today as it is safer to manage racegoers on site and with enhanced test and trace, it will be easier to identify where they are from rather than closing the event today and leaving people to their own devices in Doncaster and the borough generally.

‘I appreciate this decision may not be met with universal agreement but it is the safest and most appropriate way to move forward for everyone’s best interests in the borough and beyond.’

Around 3,500 people are attending today’s event – a figure that was expected to rise to 6,000 a day had the festival remained open. 

Yesterday the council set out 10 tests it had taken to establish whether the event was okay to go ahead.

Point 10 on the list was to address ‘critical incident risks,’ by ‘managing gatherings of people,’ and ‘public disorder risks across the borough’.

Speaking today, Dr Suckling said: ‘I am concerned that the tenth and final test will be jeopardised by potentially more people meeting up ahead of any further Government changes to the coronavirus advice this weekend.’ 

Doncaster Racecourse told customers it would offer a full refund to anyone who could no longer attend. 

Mark Spincer, managing director of the racecourse’s owner, Arena Racing Company, said: ‘We were pleased to work closely with Doncaster Council to set up this pilot event in the manner that we had but matters beyond anyone’s control, and the data that regarding local rates that have come to light today, mean we will not be able to welcome a crowd from Thursday onwards.

‘We would, of course, like to thank all of our customers for their support in the run up to this event as well as our staff who have done a monumental job in preparing the site.’

Visitors are being temperature tested outside the festival - but no further testing is in place. Masks were required on entry, but not while sat outside

Visitors are being temperature tested outside the festival – but no further testing is in place. Masks were required on entry, but not while sat outside

Visitor numbers at the racing festival were expected to rise to around 6,000 a day over the next three days, before Doncaster Council announced it was holding the rest of the event behind closed doors

Visitor numbers at the racing festival were expected to rise to around 6,000 a day over the next three days, before Doncaster Council announced it was holding the rest of the event behind closed doors

Some followers were unhappy with the decision, Paul Hope, who was at the festival today, wrote: ‘A town centre bar is far busier. 

‘Children are in school much closer together and in larger groups. It is crazy that this has been cancelled. The racecourse have done so well to try and stage this safely.’

Stephen Longley asked: ‘Why didn’t this p*** poor council put a stop to it before now and saved a lot of people’s money and efforts?’  

Christine Pemberton told the council: ‘You should have made this decision in the first place. All the St Leger should have been behind closed doors.’ 

The decision was described as a ‘farce,’ while KT Littleford wrote: ‘It’s ridiculous to cancel at short notice before they have even seen how today’s pilot went. 

‘From the looks of what I’ve seen so far it’s better organised then any pub. Doncaster racecourse will now be at a loss with money spent on training staff everything they have put into place.’

Christine Pemberton told the council: ‘You should have made this decision in the first place. All the St Leger should have been behind closed doors.’ 

Pat Spivey said it was: ‘Ridiculous to think they could hold it with all those people going was just selfish thinking of revenue rather than the increase in infection rate.’

Christine Burton added: ‘Good call – in these times consistency is key or it sends the wrong message, and then some people exploit this and do what the hell they want, putting others at risk. We’re in this together. Doncaster Racecourse – we will be back.’ 

The decision to close the festival to the public after today was described as a 'farce,' online, as one visitor argued 'a town centre bar is far busier'

The decision to close the festival to the public after today was described as a ‘farce,’ online, as one visitor argued ‘a town centre bar is far busier’

Followers raised concerns that Doncaster Racecourse will lose money following the council's decision, while organisers pledged to give customers their money back

Followers raised concerns that Doncaster Racecourse will lose money following the council’s decision, while organisers pledged to give customers their money back

Asked about the pilot on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The Prime Minister is going to set out more details of the consequences of the new rule for six people gathering later today. And we’ll set out what that means for some of these events that we were planning to do.’ 

Earlier today, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the spike in infections seen over the past week left him no choice but to act. 

In a major setback for his ambition to get back to normal by Christmas, Mr Johnson has announced the first tightening of national lockdown since March.

From Monday it will be illegal to assemble in groups of seven or more anywhere in England, whether indoors or out.

The limit sparked by concerned that partying young people are fuelling a flare-up – is a dramatic reduction on the maximum of 30 put in place on July 4. It will be enforced by police with £100 fines, doubling on each repeat offence up to £3,200.

Only schools, workplaces and a limited number of other locations will be exempt.  

The decision to hold the rest of St Leger's Festival behind closed doors has cast doubt over when crowds will be able to return to sporting events

The decision to hold the rest of St Leger’s Festival behind closed doors has cast doubt over when crowds will be able to return to sporting events

The racing festival in Doncaster had been billed as a pilot scheme to test if crowds could attend major events while maintaining social distancing

The racing festival in Doncaster had been billed as a pilot scheme to test if crowds could attend major events while maintaining social distancing

Mr Johnson said the dramatic steps were the way to ‘keep our economy going, keep our schools open and keep this virus under control’.

Revealing the tightening overnight, he said: ‘We need to act now to stop the virus spreading. So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact – making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.

‘It is absolutely critical that people now abide by these rules and remember the basics – washing your hands, covering your face, keeping space from others, and getting a test if you have symptoms.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made clear this morning that the government is ready to step up the restrictions again if necessary. He praised action taken to slash socialising in Belgium, where a curfew was imposed and appears to have helped stabilise cases.

Bars and restaurants in Bolton, which has the highest rates in the UK, have already been ordered to shut by 10pm and only serve takeaway. 

Speaking today, Doncaster’s mayor Ros Jones said: ‘I believe holding the St Leger Festival behind closed doors is the right thing to do for the safety of the borough, given the latest change in Government’s advice overnight and the increase in infection rates both in Doncaster and nationally. 

‘I welcome this decision and as I have said consistently that the risks were too great for Doncaster.

‘Holding the St Leger Festival as a government pilot caused confusion and gave mixed messages to the public around meeting people in various settings. 

‘I sympathise with the race-course, those that have bought tickets and local businesses that benefit from the St Leger, but this is the right decision for Doncaster. 

‘There will be one day of the pilot event today and it will be managed professionally and with the council’s support.’

Since racing resumed after lockdown at Newcastle on June 1, it has been restricted first to essential staff and from early July onwards owners too.

Today is Legends Day at St Leger Festival, with around 3,500 expected to be in attendance. Benches have been set up alongside the course with social distancing in mind

Today is Legends Day at St Leger Festival, with around 3,500 expected to be in attendance. Benches have been set up alongside the course with social distancing in mind

Visitors were told they only need to wear face coverings when they enter the festival and when they head inside to use the toilet or visit a bookmakers

Visitors were told they only need to wear face coverings when they enter the festival and when they head inside to use the toilet or visit a bookmakers

As visitors arrived today, bosses at the racecourse have said there were 'nerves,' about ensuring the festival was ready

As visitors arrived today, bosses at the racecourse have said there were ‘nerves,’ about ensuring the festival was ready 

The St Leger Festival starts with Legends Day today, followed by Ladies Day, Gentleman’s day and on Saturday, St Leger Day. 

On its website, the festival has told visitors they must wear masks when entering the event and while indoors.

It warns ‘social distancing officers,’ will be in place to ensure visitors follow new Covid-19 safety rules. 

Doncaster Racecourse is run by Arena Racing Company.

Speaking before the festival, its racing division managing director, Mark Spincer, said: ‘There are nerves, absolutely.

‘I think the team has done an amazing job, and we’re still finalising and tweaking things – and we’ll probably do that every day of the four.

‘But we’re set, tickets have gone out – which are all advance sales, because we’re not doing walk-ups.’

Mr Spincer acknowledged the stakes were high as the feasibility of racing crowds is put to the test on Wednesday.

He added: ‘Nobody needs to tell us how important this is – not only for Doncaster and Arena but for the industry and sport as a whole, the leisure sector and the hospitality industry need us to get this right.’

Director of public health for Doncaster Dr Rupert Suckling had previously confirmed the event could go ahead with ‘considerable planning and public health requirements in place’.

He said: ‘I appreciate this decision is one that will divide people in Doncaster and maybe further afield given the strength of feeling of both sides of this debate.

‘However from a public health perspective, I insisted on stringent tests being met before I could be assured and confident that the event should proceed with spectators.

‘I am now assured and satisfied that the racecourse, which has been positively working with us and other partners in the borough, has put the required measures in place to ensure the festival can be as safe as it can be.

‘I will be monitoring the situation on a daily basis and will take any necessary action.’ 

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones has pleaded with visitors to the horse racing festival to 'follow the guidance, ensure social distancing and to keep themselves and others safe'

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones has pleaded with visitors to the horse racing festival to ‘follow the guidance, ensure social distancing and to keep themselves and others safe’

The festival has warned visitors arriving today (above) that 'social distancing officers,' are patrolling areas to ensure they are sticking to coronavirus rules

The festival has warned visitors arriving today (above) that ‘social distancing officers,’ are patrolling areas to ensure they are sticking to coronavirus rules

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