Racing set to continue despite latest Irish lockdown but betting shops to close

Racing looked poised to escape the clutches of the latest Irish lockdown on Monday night as elite sport has been exempted from the Level 5 restrictions which are set to stay in place until the end of November in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

However, the escalation, which the government was due to confirm last night, is bad news for the 800 betting shops across Ireland which will have to close for six weeks from Wednesday night, a decision BoyleSports have described as "devastating" after spending over €1 million in ensuring a safer environment for customers.

The Racing Post understands that horseracing will be allowed to continue behind closed doors, along with the GAA inter-county championships, as it is regarded as an elite sport.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommended Ireland move to Level 5 last Friday week, but the letter sent to the government by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said there would be an "exemption for professional/elite/senior inter-county/horseracing behind closed doors."

It seems racing's status as a €2 billion industry rather than just a recreational sport has been acknowledged by the government, who announced the new measures on Monday night. 

Betting shops will be ordered to close, however, as they are categorised as non-essential retail. 

A BoyleSports spokesperson said: "We have already had to close 16 BoyleSports shops in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. Widescale closures would be devastating, not only for our business, but for our 1,500 loyal and hardworking retail employees.

"Over the past six months, BoyleSports has invested over €1m in making shops a safe environment for our customers. We have put up new screens on our counters and between machines, installed hand-sanitizing stations, we have also placed extensive signage in every store. At the same time, we have significantly restricted the number of people allowed in any one BoyleSports shop at any time to ensure compliance with all public-health guidance."

In the latest lockdown measures, pubs and restaurants will only be able to serve takeaway, while travel restrictions, possibly just ten kilometres, are also seen as likely. 

Construction will remain open under the plan, while people will also only be able to exercise within five kilometres of their homes. Schools and creches will also remain open.