Piers Morgan slams 'staggering' decision to allow Cheltenham Festival to go ahead

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 25: Piers Morgan attends the 2019 British Academy Britannia Awards presented by American Airlines and Jaguar Land Rover at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 25, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)
Piers Morgan attends the 2019 British Academy Britannia Awards (Emma McIntyre/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Piers Morgan has said he was “astonished” that the Cheltenham Festival – one of the biggest events on the racing calendar – was allowed to go ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak.

The event in Gloucestershire took place from 10-13 March and was attended by thousands of people.

At the time, the Good Morning Britain presenter criticised the decision to let it go ahead and he has now addressed the issue again in a scathing Daily Mail column in which he says the UK government's strategy to combat the virus has been “a complete fiasco”.

The star said the festival saw people “huddled together in large groups, drinking, eating and gambling” and claimed that it was “the biggest party in Britain this year”.

Morgan said he was “astonished” that it went ahead, writing: “‘How can anybody tell me, as this outbreak is beginning to erupt, that kind of gathering of people in close proximity is a good idea?’ I asked on 11 March, the same day the World Health Organization officially labelled coronavirus a global pandemic.

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“What are the chances that some of the 60,000-odd people each day has the virus? I'd say reasonably high.

A general view from the Grand Stand of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, England, Wednesday March 11, 2020. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)
View from the Grand Stand of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. (PA via AP)

“The health of our elderly and those with underlying health problems should be more important than people going about having jollies.”

Saying his original words now seem “horribly prescient”, Morgan went on: “What's staggering is that Boris Johnson didn't understand how mad it seemed.”

Shortly before the racing event, culture secretary Oliver Dowden suggested it would go ahead as planned.

File photo dated 09/03/20 showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street, in London, on the government's coronavirus action plan.
Boris Johnson delivering his first speech as prime minister. (PA)

Indicating that sporting events in Britain were unlikely to be affected by coronavirus in the immediate future at that time, he told BBC Radio 5 Live: "At this stage we're not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events."

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Dowden said the decision was based on guidance from medical experts.

He added: "I do want to emphasise in relation to sporting events, any talk of cancellation is very premature indeed. At the moment there is no evidence to suggest we should be doing that and we don't have any plans to."