The UK will enter its toughest lockdown since last March on Wednesday, as the country battles a mutant strain of coronavirus that threatens to engulf its National Health Service. However, the English Premier League and other elite sports will be permitted to continue without spectators.
This is a silver lining for both sports fans and the betting industry. Horse racing can also operate behind closed doors.
Amateur sports must cease, however, as even open-air sports venues will be forced to close. These include golf courses, tennis courts, and outdoor gyms.
On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all schools and non-essential retail to shutter and told people to stay at home. The directive can be enforced by law. Politicians in Scotland also introduced similarly tough new rules on Monday, joining stricter regimes already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Billions on the Line
The EPL, the most bet-upon sports league in the world, was forced to shut down ahead of the country’s first lockdown. This disrupted the 2019-20 season and hammering betting revenues. But professional leagues have since established strict testing regimes and protocols to restrict the spread of the virus, making outdoor sports like soccer relatively low risk.
Nevertheless, several EPL games have been postponed this season because of coronavirus outbreaks. This includes Manchester City versus Everton in late December.
The new restrictions will see the closure once again of the nation’s retail betting outlets, many of which were already shuttered by regional pandemic restrictions.
Resultant losses there can be partially offset by the inevitable uptick in online gaming, as was reported during the first lockdown. But the lack of disruption to sports will see bookies breathe huge sighs of relief.
The UK sports betting market was worth more than £5 billion ($6.1 billion) in the fiscal year 2019, with the vast majority of that generated by the EPL.
EPL chiefs will also be hugely relieved for the sake of the league’s finances and those of its teams. Overseas media partners have paid a cumulative £4.35 billion ($5.32 billion) for the broadcast rights to the 2019-22 seasons and could sue for billions if the league fails to deliver its quota of games.
Meanwhile, the government sees soccer as an important component of the national mood, as the public faces a bleak winter lockdown that could last until March. Johnson warned that the coming weeks would be the “hardest yet.”
More Contagious Strain Hits England
His words came as the UK became the first nation to begin using the homegrown vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
The government plans to administer at least one shot to four priority groups, numbering around 13 million people, by mid-February in a bid to fend off the fast-spreading variant.
Scientists believe the new strain is up to 70 percent more contagious than previous strains. It appears to have developed in southeast England.
As of Tuesday, January 5, there were 23,873 people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the UK. Almost 60,000 new cases were recorded on the same day. The country has among the highest death rates per capita from COVID-19 in the world.