WATCH: UK ‘nowhere near’ cancelling sporting events over coronavirus, says Culture Secretary
Talk of cancelling major sporting fixtures in the UK due to coronavirus is “very premature”, according to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
He said the Government is “nowhere near” making such a decision, despite a host of European countries already doing so.
The Six Nations rugby tournament has been heavily disrupted due to the global outbreak, top-level football matches in Italy are being played behind closed doors, and the start of the Formula One season faces continued uncertainty.
But Mr Dowden told ITV News: “I think in respect of sporting events speculation about cancelling or postponing sporting events is very premature, we're nowhere near that sort of stage.”
He added: “There is a possibility it could happen but we’re very clear at the moment it is not the case, and I wouldn’t expect that to be for some time.”
And he said: “In all of this we’re being driven by the facts and the evidence and the science, guided by the Chief Medical Officer.”
The Cabinet minister was speaking ahead of a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee on Monday morning, chaired by Boris Johnson, where the Government is expected to formally move from the “contain” to the “delay” phase of dealing with the COVID-19 virus.
That could include school closures and encouraging more people to work from home in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.
But Mr Dowden said people should not stop attending sporting or cultural events at the moment, adding: “The one thing they should keep on doing is to wash their hands for 20 seconds.
“That is the number one thing everyone can do, that is the most important thing for people to do.
It comes as Downing Street launched a new unit to tackle fake news relating to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Dowden said the specialist group would work closely with social media companies to monitor and remove disinformation, while it could also be tasked with taking on scammers seeking to exploit the crisis.
He said: “Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority.
“As part of our ongoing work to tackle these threats we have brought together expert teams to make sure we can respond effectively should these threats be identified in relation to the spread of Covid-19.
“This work includes regular engagement with the social media companies, which are well placed to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation, and will make sure we are on the front foot to act if required."