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Cheltenham Festival should not have gone ahead, says Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney

Irish deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney says Cheltenham should not have gone ahead
Image: Irish deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney says Cheltenham should not have gone ahead

Irish deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has criticised the UK government for allowing the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead, despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

Tens of thousands of racing fans have made the trip from Ireland to Prestbury Park this week for the showpiece event in the National Hunt calendar.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced on Thursday that all schools, colleges and childcare facilities in Ireland will close until the end of the month, while outdoor gatherings of over 500 people, and indoor gatherings of over 100 should be cancelled.

Coveney says racegoers returning from Cheltenham will be reminded at points of entry into Ireland of the need to self-isolate should they show any symptoms of coronavirus.

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Barry Geraghty is not sure what the immediate future will hold for racing in the UK but would not be against the sport continuing behind closed doors

"If Cheltenham was being held in Ireland I don't think it would be on, quite frankly," Mr Coveney told RTÉ's Prime Time.

"We have committed today in Government that we are going to introduce new health interviews if you like in our airports and ports so that people that are coming into Ireland will effectively be informed and have a health conversation around Covid-19 before they enter the country including the people coming back from Cheltenham."

Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris announced on Friday that people returning to Ireland from Spain and Italy are being asked to restrict their movements for the next two weeks.

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Crowds have flocked to Cheltenham this week
Image: Crowds have flocked to Cheltenham this week

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said: "It is not quite self-isolate, but to restrict their movements.

"Anyone returning from Italy and Spain will be met by environmental health workers on their return at the airport and told to restrict their movements."

The same measures will not apply for racing fans returning from Cheltenham.

"It is a statement of fact that the UK is not in the same situation as Spain or Italy," Harris said.

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