England to allow 4,000 fans at elite events in lowest-risk areas


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Fulham v Everton - Craven Cottage, London, Britain - November 22, 2020 General view inside the stadium before the match Pool via REUTERS/John Sibley

(Reuters) - Up to 4,000 spectators will be allowed to attend outdoor elite sports events in the lowest-risk tier one areas of England when a month-long national lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 is lifted on Dec. 2, the British government said on Monday.

As part of new COVID-19 restrictions, 2,000 fans or 50% of a stadium's capacity - whichever is lower - can attend sporting events in tier two areas but none can do so in tier three areas, Britain's Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.

English Premier League matches have continued behind closed doors during the second lockdown announced on Nov. 1. Supporters have not been allowed into sporting venues since the first lockdown was announced in March, barring a few exceptions.

"I can confirm the national restrictions will end on Dec. 2 ... People can leave their home, subject to the rule of six," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons.

"Wedding services, outdoor sports can resume. Leisure can resume. Sports will be able to resume inside in tier one and two with measures on social distancing.

"Enforcement will be strengthened with new powers to close down premises that pose a risk to public health."

Members of Parliament are set to cast a vote on plans before they are confirmed and the government will announce on Thursday which areas will go into which tier.

GRASSROOTS SPORT

Indoor sport and physical activity will also resume but with some restrictions on activities due to the higher transmission risk of the novel coronavirus.

Organised grassroots sport will resume from Dec. 2 and gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen across all tiers.

"This is a big step forward for sport. Bringing grassroots sport back was my number one priority," Dowden said.

"I'm confident sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in."

The Premier League welcomed the move but said it hoped to quickly move to bigger capacities.

"Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss." it said.

"Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s COVID-secure guidelines and beyond.

"Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative," it added.

The Football League (EFL), which organises football in the Championship and lower two divisions, was also encouraged.

“Whilst today’s news is subject to regional restrictions, it is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams as a result of the pandemic," the league said.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru and Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge/Tom Brown/Ken Ferris)

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