England’s Racetracks, Casinos Go Full Capacity Despite Raging Pandemic


Posted on: July 19, 2021, 04:46h. 

Last updated on: July 19, 2021, 05:13h.

On Monday, England’s racetracks and casinos were free to open at full capacity for the first time since March 2020. On the same day, the CDC warned US citizens not to travel to the country because of the “very high” prevalence of the delta variant.

horse racing
The crowds could soon return to English horse racing, although the population is exercising restraint over its newfound freedom. (Arena Racing Company)

This was England’s long-awaited “Freedom Day,” as it had been dubbed by tabloid newspapers, the end of all of England’s remaining social distancing restrictions. It was telling that its architect, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, spent the day self-isolating, having been “pinged” by his test-and-trace app.

As the country basked in 86 degree-heat, most English people spent Freedom Day in a similarly restrained manner. They largely resisted the urge to hit the casinos and nightclubs, painfully aware this pandemic has gone nowhere.

Race to Vaccinate

The UK is currently experiencing around 50,000 cases per day, close to the peak of its second wave in January. Some models predict that infections could reach 200,000 a day later in the summer.

But with more than 68 percent of UK adults fully vaccinated, it’s expected that hospital admissions, serious illness, and deaths from Covid-19 will be lower than in earlier waves.

And the message from British Horseracing Association (BHA) Monday was clear: anyone for a day the races?

Racing came under sharp scrutiny in March 2020, after the first wave began to build in the UK. The Cheltenham Festival attracted 125,000 people just days before new modeling forced the government to reverse its policy from one of mitigation to containment.

Ten days after Cheltenham, the UK went into its first lockdown. Many public health officials blamed the racing festival for accelerating the spread of the disease and criticized the government for allowing it to go ahead.

‘Protecting Our People and Industry’

Since then, UK racing has been canceled or turned into a virtual spectacle. It was revived behind closed doors, used for pilot events, and, since May 17, revived as a live spectator sport, but with 50 percent capacity.

“Racing has demonstrated throughout the pandemic our ability to conduct race meetings safely and sensibly, with participants adapting quickly to new processes and following rigorously the infection control measures in place,” said the BHA’s Chief Medical Adviser, Dr Jerry Hill, in a statement Monday.

While the full return of spectators and the further easing of restrictions is welcome, with cases continuing to rise, racing must do what we can to protect our people and industry – especially against the ongoing risk of 10-day self-isolation for close contacts of infected individuals.”

Hill said the best way to bolster protection was through vaccination, along with regular lateral flow testing. But he added the BHA would retain some social distancing measures on track to help protect those participants working in higher-risk indoor areas.