Plans to allow the phased return of spectators into sporting venues in England from October 1 will be put on hold because of the recent rise in coronavirus cases, Michael Gove has announced.
A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000 irrespective of the size of grounds, have taken place and it was hoped stadiums would be allowed to welcome more fans from the start of next month.
However, the UK’s chief medical officers recommended on Monday that the Covid-19 alert level should be moved from three to four, which means the transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.
Cabinet Office Minister Gove told BBC Breakfast: “It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning.
“It wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans. We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme.
“But what we do want to do is to make sure is that as and when circumstances allow get more people back.
“It is the case that we need to be cautious at the moment. A mass reopening would not be appropriate at the moment. We do need to proceed with caution.”
Major sporting events in the UK, including Premier League football, English international cricket and two Formula One races at Silverstone, have been held behind closed doors over the summer.
There has been scrutiny about whether, when coronavirus cases were surging in March, the authorities had been quick to act, and the wisdom of allowing the Cheltenham Festival plus other other high-profile events to go ahead with spectators has been questioned.
Gove added: “The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but it is in the nature of major sporting events that there is a lot of mingling.
“People look back now at the beg of pandemic and look at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead?
“One of the things we must do now, whatever the wisdom of the decisions made then, is to look at sports events now with caution.
“We also recognise that sport’s a vital part of the life of the nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes and our great clubs at what is a challenging time.
“We have been piloting some open-air venues and we do want people to be watching sport.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline a number of new measures aimed at tackling the surge in coronavirus cases later on Tuesday.