Cheltenham warning: Can horses catch coronavirus? Can you get COVID-19 from animals?

Last week, fears around the coronavirus outbreak suggested Cheltenham Festival – being held from March 10 to March 13 – could be cancelled. Officials confirmed today the four-day race week would go ahead – but a set of new guidelines have now been issued for racegoers.

A Cheltenham Racecourse spokesman said: “We look forward to staging The Festival presented by Magners at Cheltenham next week.

“We welcome the government’s guidance that the business of the country should continue as usual, while ensuring we adhere to the latest public health advice.

“We have increased the number of wash basins and toilet facilities on site, we will make hand sanitiser readily available and increase the number of paper towels for hand drying.

“We have also increased staff numbers to ensure that soap and drying facilities are constantly available.”


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Hand washing stations are being set up at the racecourse, while hand sanitiser will be made available for race goers.

The virus is thought to be spread by droplets, such as when people cough and sneeze.

So the NHS advice is to sneeze into the crook of your arm, rather than into your hands.

But while these extra precautions are being taken, some concerned citizen have questioned the roles animals can play in the spread after a dog tested positive for a weak strain of the virus.

Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals – and COVID-19 is one of seven strains which is also known to infect humans.

And horse racing enthusiasts have now asked whether horses can catch coronavirus – or give it to people.

While animals are the original source of the virus, it is now spreading via human to human transmission.

Scientists estimate that, on average, one infected person will infect between two and three more people.

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However, last week experts confirmed the first known case of human-to-animal transmission.

The case was that of a Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong, who was found to have been infected with a weak strain of the disease.

University of Hong Kong and the World Organisation for Animal Health experts “unanimously agreed” that this is a case of human-to-animal transmission, a spokesman for Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said.

It is still thought that this current strain of coronavirus now cannot be spread from animal to human.

Jonathan Ball, professor of medical virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “I think how relevant it is to the human outbreak is questionable.

“Most of the outbreak around the world has been driven by human-to-human transmission.

“I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels. But obviously we need to find out more, but we don’t need to panic.

“The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”

If Cheltenham were to have been axed over the COVID-19 outbreak, it would be the latest in a string of sporting fixtures cancelled as the virus reaches almost pandemic levels.

The Six Nations organiser today released a statement which read: “Following instructions received from the authorities in France, the decision has been made to postpone the Round 5 Guinness Six Nations match between France and Ireland.

“We are still awaiting confirmation for the Women’s and U20’s fixtures.

“The Wales V Scotland Guinness Six Nations and U20 Six Nations matches will be going ahead as scheduled.

“The fixture between Wales Women and Scotland Women is also postponed after a Scottish player tested positive for Covid-19 and a further seven members of the Scotland camp (players and management) are self-isolating.

“Six Nations and its constituent Unions and federations will work closely to identify dates on which all postponed matches will take place.

“No immediate announcement will be made on rescheduling as we will need to discuss with all relevant stakeholders and assess the evolution of the situation.”

Elsewhere, the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund will be played without fans because of the spread of the coronavirus, Paris police said.

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