Sunak defends decision to allow Liverpool match, Cheltenham to go ahead

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted that the government was right to let Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League match against Atlético Madrid and the Cheltenham Festival horse-racing event go ahead in mid-March.

Liverpool hosted Atlético at Anfield on Wednesday, March 11 in the same week that tens of thousands of fans attended Cheltenham Festival. The UK had not implemented social distancing guidelines or banned mass gatherings at this point.

Atlético supporters had travelled to Liverpool from Madrid at a time when parts of the Spanish capital were already in lockdown due to COVID-19. Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, the Mayor of Madrid, said over the weekend that it was a “mistake” to allow 3,000 Atlético fans to travel to Liverpool for the match.

At the UK government’s press conference yesterday (Monday), Liam Thorp, a reporter from the Liverpool Echo newspaper, questioned whether the match should have gone ahead. Liverpool hospitals have recorded more than 250 deaths from the virus.

Responding to the report, Angela McLean, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, said: “I’m genuinely sad to hear that so many people in Liverpool have been unwell and so many have died.”

She added: “I think it would be very interesting to see in the future when all the science is done what relationship there is between the viruses that have circulated in Liverpool and the viruses that have circulated in Spain. That’s certainly an interesting hypothesis you raise there.”

Sunak said: “At every stage in this crisis, we have been guided by the scientific advice and have been making the right decisions at the right time. It’s important that’s that what we do. There’s often a wrong time to put certain measures in place, thinking about sustainability and everything else. At all parts of this we have been guided by that science, guided by taking the right decisions at the right time and I stand by that.”

Meanwhile, Atlético has opened up facilities at the club’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium to vulnerable groups in Madrid during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kitchens at the stadium have been made available to the regional government, which is implementing a plan to offer daily food to families that are socially vulnerable. A 900-square-metre space has been equipped with the “highest technology” and set up in the kitchens for the government.

Back in England, Championship club West Bromwich Albion has teamed up with a West Midland NHS Trust to set up temporary maternity clinics at The Hawthorns.

The facility will be run by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust. There will be three clinics held from Monday to Friday between 9am to 5pm, with West Brom to provide free space in the East Stand suites.

Ten midwives and three support workers will staff the facility, which is designed to provide an alternative space for women who are having antenatal and postnatal care.

Director of Midwifery Helen Hurst said: “Women are slightly anxious about coming to hospital in the current climate so we wanted to find a safe space away from the hospital.

“It will be for women who are 24 weeks onwards and there will be postnatal clinics for those who have been discharged. It will be as safe as the services that are currently provided by our midwives within the community, and in GP clinics. Should the need arise, we will be able to call on the ambulance service. We are really grateful to the Baggies for providing this space for women during this worrying time.”

A 250-bed isolation centre has been set up at Niaz Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad, Pakistan.

The Express Tribune newspaper reports that the stadium’s Hyderabad Club and Sindh Sports Board Hostel have already been converted, with the facility to only be used if required.

Niaz Cricket Stadium has a capacity of 15,000.

Image: Kevin Walsh