Racing will recommence in Britain on Monday with strict hygiene and social distancing protocols in place.
In addition to measures such as screening and testing, the British Horseracing Authority is launching a “racing-specific” surveillance programme to identify and help act on coronavirus issues.
BHA chief medical officer Dr Jerry Hill said: “Particularly because we are an outside sport, it makes our infection transmission risk lower than other sports. It doesn’t take it to zero, so we need to be mindful of social distancing and hygiene, but it does put us in a different category to other sports.
“We are going to launch a surveillance programme so that we can monitor, in an anonymous fashion, the case load of Covid-19 in our industry. With Government, we know we can map it by region and local authority area which allows us to identify local rates around yards and racecourses, but that’s not racing specific.
“What we need is a racing-specific database, so that we can say in this area we have seen a little increase in cases in racing, and that allows us to link up with our colleagues at Public Health England and have conversations about what they’re going to do about it.
“Testing comes into that surveillance programme as we recognise you get greater value from targeted testing rather than doing a blanket testing.”
Brant Dunshea, BHA chief regulatory officer, said: “The surveillance programme is to monitor what’s going on at a local level, so in terms of responding, our response would be relevant to the particular circumstances. We wouldn’t or couldn’t say we would immediately be locking down a particular facility or trainer’s activities – what we would do would to be engage with Public Health England, getting an understanding of what the issue is and then there would be a collaborative approach in terms of how we respond.”
Dunshea also outlined how the BHA’s new protocols have been trialled ahead of racing’s restart.
He added: “Racing in Britain is incredibly safe, relatively speaking, but of course it is a sport that comes with inherent risks, so we’ve taken a very strong approach to risk management – both off the track and around the racecourse and stable yard environment.
“In delivering our sport, we will have to adhere to social distancing guidance, but there are a number of pinch points or key tasks on a race day which mean you can’t maintain the full two metres.
“Therefore this past week we have run two separate, small trials at Lingfield to test and rehearse our procedures. We were very interested in seeing in practice how the pre-screening process worked, leading up to screening on the racecourse upon arrival.
“We were also interested to see how we managed the gear transfer, so handing gear from the trainer or stable yard across to the jockey in a safe, controlled way.
“We have had constant dialogue going with trainers and jockeys – we wanted to ensure all of our collective thinking and development around the policies is working.
“We were also really keen to see how the loading process worked as that’s obviously one of the key areas where we will see instances of breaching the social distance requirements.
“We have put in place these risk mitigators, such as wearing facial coverings, asking people to use hand sanitiser both before and after they perform those functions and that’s factored into our approach.”
BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “Employers have a responsibility as well in individual circumstances, so even with the background surveillance, individuals need to be excluded from the working area and so on. None of our protocols supersede, they are in addition to what’s required by Government as an employer in local areas.
“I think the public will see a very professional group of people operating on race days and following the social distancing guidelines and doing all they can to minimise the risk of transmitting the Covid virus.”
There has been much discussion about whether the Cheltenham Festival should have gone ahead, although the BHA has insisted it acted consistently on Government advice throughout.
Rust said: “I do accept there is still a continuing examination by the public of the Cheltenham situation – what I’d say is we’re returning safely and in a way that is very responsible. We have an opportunity as a sport over the next few weeks to showcase what we are all about, not only how we manage protocols, but just how colourful and exciting our sport is.
“We’re going to have coverage compared to other sports that we haven’t seen for 40 or 50 years over the next few weeks and that is a great opportunity to reconnect with the public.
“I think racing in Britain has done well over the recent years, despite changing attitudes among the public, and we’ve got a chance over these next few weeks to really showcase our sport and our industry and help us really push forward towards the recovery our industry needs.”