Councillors and scientists say there are 'legitimate questions' to be asked over whether last month's Cheltenham Festival may be linked to a spike in Covid-19 deaths at a local NHS trust.

The three-day event went ahead in early March and was attended by around 125,000 people, despite warnings that the virus was beginning to spread through the country.

It was one of several big events which took place in the week before the UK went into lockdown, including the Bath half marathon and many other sporting fixtures.

Gloucestershire NHS Trust, which runs both Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General hospitals, has the highest rate of virus-related deaths in the region, according to data from the Health Service Journal.

But public health officials say there is no evidence to prove this spike is linked to the festival.

At that stage the advice of the Government was that there would be no lockdown, things would keep going, schools would stay open and this was nothing much to worry about, this would be alright.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Lib Dem, Gloucestershire County Council

Covid-19 deaths at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust

But some leading scientists are warning that we should be careful not to jump to conclusions about cause and effect.

It's easy to identify one event that's very visible, but not know about many other things that might be underpinning those numbers. There is no hard and fast data that enables us to really draw a direct link between the Cheltenham Festival and those deaths, but it is an interesting seeming spike in numbers of deaths in an area of the country which has remarkably few deaths compared to the rest of the UK.

Andrew Preston, department of biology and biochemistry, University of Bath
The festival went ahead under government guidance. Credit: PA

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Gloucestershire County Council's director of public health agrees, saying the high number of deaths in the county could be caused by a number of reasons.

There are many factors that could influence the number of cases in an area, including population density, age and health profile and the position of an area on the pandemic curve.

Sarah Scott, Gloucestershire director of public health

The Jockey Club declined to comment today, but they have previously defended their decision, saying the festival 'went ahead under Government guidance'.

The festival went ahead under the Government's ongoing guidance throughout, like other popular sports events at Twickenham, Murrayfield, ten Premier League matches and the Uefa Champions League at Anfield that same week.

Cheltenham Racecourse spokesman, speaking on April 4th

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