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12/5 on cheltenham beING cancelled as UK patients up to 163

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Dubliners Kiara Kennedy (left) and Tamso Doyle at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

Dubliners Kiara Kennedy (left) and Tamso Doyle at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

Dubliners Kiara Kennedy (left) and Tamso Doyle at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

The ongoing threat posed by the coronavirus seemingly hasn't deterred tens of thousands of Irish punters from planning to attend next week's Cheltenham Festival.

The three-day event from March 10 to 13 attracts around 250,000 fans to Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire - with about a third of punters coming from Ireland.

While some Covid-19 hotspots like France have banned all indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people and tomorrow's Paris half-marathon has been cancelled, organisers of the world-famous horse racing festival said it is still planning to host the event next week.

Slashed

That is despite the fact that the number of confirmed cases of the potentially deadly coronavirus in the UK skyrocketed to 163 by yesterday afternoon.

Some 48 cases were confirmed on Thursday and Friday alone - the largest increase there in a 24-hour period.

More than 20,000 people in the UK have been tested for the virus, while Thursday saw the country's first death from the outbreak.

Even the bookies are hedging their bets on the world famous horse-racing fixture to be postponed or cancelled.

As of yesterday, bookmakers slashed the odds of the event being cancelled to 12/5.

Yet that hasn't deterred some die-hards from still planning to cross the Irish Sea to take part.

Mary Lee, director of Newbridge Travel in Co Kildare, said none of her 150 clients who have booked flights and accommodation for the festival had pulled out by late this week.

"Absolutely none at all. Everyone still wants to go," she told the Herald.

Despite the ongoing threat of the virus spreading through large gatherings of people, no one has so far said they are willing to forgo having a flutter at the festival.

"On the whole, people aren't panicking. It's still all systems go," she said.

Thomas Kavanagh, managing director of Barry's Travel in Cork city, said his tour company also still plans to take around 156 punters on three coaches to Cheltenham from Cork next week.

"There's no effect yet. People seem pretty robust," Mr Kavanagh said.

While he has not had any Cheltenham cancellations, he can't say the same for Asian visitors to Ireland who have cancelled around 18 bus tours since the virus first broke out.

Festival organisers have moved to reassure punters that the risk of catching the virus at the festival remains low with hand sanitisers and other precautions to be put in place.

However, a public health notice issued by the British Horseracing Authority and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is urging anyone who has been to high-risk areas of the virus outbreak, or been in contact with someone who has symptoms of the virus, to stay away from the festival.