Betting shops in London, the South East and East of England have been forced to close their doors after the regions were placed under new tier four restrictions.
The new measures, which were introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the weekend, will mean that all non-essential retail – including betting shops – must close for the foreseeable future.
The government’s latest decision will come as a bitter blow to the betting sector, with shops only having just reopened following the recent lockdown which took place from 5 November to 2 December.
From 26 December, betting shops in Scotland and Northern Ireland will also close after the devolved administrations introduce tighter restrictions in a bid to curb recent spikes in coronavirus cases.
Responding to the announcement of further Covid-19 restrictions, Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “We fully support the determination of the UK Government and the devolved administrations to fight the spread of Covid-19 and protect our NHS.
“The announcement by the UK Government means that betting shops in England, as part of non-essential retail, sadly have closed in tier four areas.
“Unfortunately, betting shops in Wales have also closed as part of the country’s full lockdown, while those in mainland Scotland and Northern Ireland will close from Boxing Day. This is disappointing news for our staff and customers, but we hope to be able to reopen safely once again as soon as possible.
“The good news is that, unlike the full lockdown last Spring, there is plenty of live sport, including racing, for people to enjoy on television over the holidays.”
Speaking over the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave no clear date as to when London, the South East and East of England will emerge from tier four. However, speculation was raised over whether those under the new restrictions should expect to be in tier four until the vaccine is more widely distributed.
Hancock said: “Essentially, we have got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.
“We have really got to get this under control. The cases in the tier four areas have absolutely rocketed in the last few days – the last two weeks or so. We have a long way to go to solve this.”
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has confirmed that under the new tier four areas, racing will continue behind closed doors – with the racing body emphasising that it will continue to liaise with Government, Public Health England and local Safety Advisory Groups to ‘keep the situation under review’.
A statement read: “A Government official has confirmed to the BHA that tier four is equivalent to the restrictions that applied to elite sports in the second national lockdown in November.
“Racing will continue behind closed doors in tier four in England – with no spectators and owners subjected to the same restrictions as in November, which limit attendance to a maximum of 45 on the course at any point.
“All those attending racing behind closed doors, including participants, are asked to note the Government’s latest statements about the risks of virus transmission and ensure they continue to follow racing’s protocols.
“The BHA and racecourses will continue to liaise with Government, Public Health England and local Safety Advisory Groups and keep the situation under review. We will share any further relevant details as and when we have them.”
Taking a similar stance, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) stated that it would be ‘mindful’ of the changing situation, keeping its operational strategy under constant review to ensure that it is in line with government guidance.
Commenting on the latest government advice, GBGB Managing Director Mark Bird said: “We need to remember that these restrictions relate to a variant strain of the Covid-19 virus. The variant is said to have a transmission rate 70% higher than that of the original. I would ask all stadia staff, trainers and their employees to remain vigilant as to their social distancing at all tracks and to maintain strict levels of PPE.
“Whilst it is very important for us all to keep working, we must be mindful that the current situation with the virus is fast moving and we will need to constantly review our operational plan in line with government advice.”