Cheltenham working on coronavirus Festival contingency plan

Cheltenham officials remain upbeat regarding The Festival's prospects of going ahead amid concerns the meeting may fall victim to coronavirus.

The outbreak has already claimed the Chinese Grand Prix and led to Serie A matches being played behind closed doors- and now there is a chance it could affect the prestigious National Hunt meeting.

The British Horseracing Authority has created an industry steering group to consider the implications of the virus, with 13 days to go until Cheltenham's number one fixture.

Ian Renton, regional director at the racecourse, said on Wednesday: "At the moment the racing industry is working closely with the Government and they have been extremely effective in keeping controls on the virus not entering this country, so we are delighted with what they have done and we look forward to The Festival happening in a fortnight’s time.

"We have seen various things that have come on the horizon at each Festival.

"Last year we had the equine flu and high winds, previously we had the 'Beast from the East' so there’s normally something around the corner to create a little bit of concern.

"At the moment there is nothing to push us off course."

Around 250,000 people are due to attend The Festival, from March 10-13.

Last year, the high class sporting action went ahead after an inspection due to high winds from Storm Gareth.

In 2001, the meeting was cancelled due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Across Europe, coronavirus has hit Italy particularly hard, while it has been announced patients in the UK with flu-like symptoms will be tested for the life-threatening bug.

Renton said the worldwide problem is on his radar, working in conjunction with the BHA.

"There are always thoughts for whatever eventuality there may be," he said.

"Last year we were working through if we were to lose a day due to the winds when we would stage it, so we have a number of scenarios in mind for whatever could happen.

"There isn’t one fixed plan."

If the meeting is called off, rescheduling plans will have to consider Aintree's Grand National meeting three weeks later and the Punchestown Festival soon after.

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