Plans for fans to return to watch live sport events in England from 1 October will not go ahead, says cabinet office minister Michael Gove.
The plans were placed under review earlier this month after a rise in coronavirus cases, with pilot events restricted to 1,000 people.
The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has moved to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Gove confirmed plans for a staged return of fans would be “paused”.
“We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” he said.
“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.”
The majority of sports in England have been played behind closed doors since the coronavirus lockdown in March, including Premier League football, the FA Cup final, England’s Test cricket matches and two Formula 1 races at Silverstone.
Sport events that took place with full crowds in March shortly before all fixtures were postponed and the UK locked down have come under scrutiny.
The impact of Liverpool’s Champions League fixture with Atletico Madrid on the spread of coronavirus is being investigated by the city’s council, while there have also been calls for an investigation into whether the Cheltenham Festival should have gone ahead.
The government defended its decision to allow such events to go ahead before restrictions on mass gatherings were introduced.
“People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead,” added Gove.
“What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time.”
Earlier this month, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told BBC Sport it was “absolutely critical” fans were allowed back inside stadiums as soon as possible and failure to do so would cost clubs Â£700m during the 2020-21 season.
At the end of August, 2,500 people watched a friendly between Brighton and Chelsea at the Seagulls’ Amex Stadium – the first time fans had been allowed into a Premier League ground in almost six months.
About 300 spectators were allowed to watch last month’s World Snooker Championship final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Kyren Wilson at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, but original plans to admit fans for all days of the tournament were reversed.
Arsenal’s 9-1 victory over West Ham in the Women’s Super League on 12 September saw up to 1,000 fans attend.
More than 2,500 spectators bought tickets for the first day of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster on 9 September, the first crowd at a British horse racing fixture in six months – but the rest of the meeting was then held behind closed doors.
News – Plan for fans to return in October is off