IRISH racing is bracing for another winter season that could be overshadowed by Covid-19 but IHRB senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh is confident that racecourses remain very safe.
The seven-day average for Covid cases in Ireland was at just under 4,500 as of yesterday and this week Dr Pugh circulated a letter to all relevant industry stakeholders to reinforce Government guidelines on Covid-19.
Most of the advice for those working and attending the races remains the same; however all close contacts, vaccinated or unvaccinated, are now required to self-isolate for five days and have three negative antigen tests before returning to work. Face coverings are also now mandatory again in the parade ring.
Regarding the letter, Dr Pugh said: “It’s just a reminder. The cases are so high at the moment that you cannot be cautious enough. It’s unfortunate that we are still having to enforce this message but we are where we are.
“I think racecourses are doing a great job of keeping everybody safe. There are not many restrictions at the races, you can come and enjoy your day racing. You just need to keep hand sanitizing and use face coverings, keep socially distant and stay away if you’re unwell. I think that’s the key.
“Our selling point is that people can come racing and be outside. It’s cold and hopefully it stays dry but you can come and have a very safe day. Bar you’re going to an indoor setting or not staying apart from someone, you really should be quite safe at the races. Indoor dining is vaccination certs only but that’s the same as any restaurant.”
Despite the threat of poor weather, racecourses are doing all they can to make their facilities as safe as possible, with a particular use of outdoor marquees. There are a number of high profile race meetings coming up, including the Fairyhouse Winter Festival this weekend.
Fairyhouse general manager Peter Roe said: “We’re trying to make this weekend an outdoor event as much as we can. We have invested a lot of money into our Winter Village marquee and the entertainment. We’re telling people to dress for an outdoor event and trying to have as much cover as we can outside and have plenty of options for bars, food and beverage.
“Navan had a marquee and it was a great success last week and I’m hoping for a big crowd this weekend as well. We are hearing from people who are anxious about Covid and have concerns but we’re trying to make the event as Covid compliant as we can.
“There’ll be a lot of checking, a lot of Covid compliance officers in place and we’ll be working with Jennifer Pugh as much as we can.”
Dr Pugh also reported that there have been no recent Covid cases among jockeys and trainers, as far as she was aware, with both groups having high vaccination rates. Racecourses have continued to provide overflow rooms to allow jockeys extra space.
Despite the high number of Covid cases and hospitalizations Government officials remain hopeful of avoiding another lockdown after the latest relevant numbers seemed to plateau.