Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden defends Cheltenham 2020 decision

Piers Morgan and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden have clashed over the decision to let the 2020 Cheltenham Festival proceed.

The pair let their views known on Good Morning Britain, with the celebrity host claiming Dowden and the government were "actively encouraging" people to go to such events at the time.

The Cheltenham Festival was held with around 250,000 people in attendance from March 10-13, after extra hygiene measures were deployed at the venue.

Pressed by Morgan on Monday's show, Mr Dowden said: "The scientific evidence we were being given was that, at a mass gathering, the threat at a mass gathering relates to the people who immediately surround you – the people in front of you and behind you.

"The risk at mass gatherings was no greater or less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants, and the advice at that point was that we did not need to ban mass gatherings."

Asked if the advice was wrong, the Cabinet minister replied: "As the situation developed, the scientific advice changed and we changed our guidance off the back of it.

"But mass gatherings are not different to any of those other events I described and at the appropriate moment we took the decision to close pubs, to close restaurants."

Just days ago, British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust also defended the call over Cheltenham's biggest meeting of the season.

"Everyone with hindsight can say we shouldn't have done certain things," he said.

"There are all sorts of things that shouldn't have happened in this country if you want to remove risk completely.

"But based on the advice from the government at the time it was the right decision for The Festival to go ahead."

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