ALLOWING Cheltenham festival to go ahead in March "caused increased suffering and death", the scientist leading the UK's largest Covid-19 tracking project has said.

Data gathered from millions of volunteers found coronavirus "hotspots" shortly after the Cheltenham Festival, the BBC has reported.

Speaking to the BBC's File on 4 programme, Professor Tim Spector said rates of cases locally "increased several-fold".

Although both the government and Gloucestershire County Council said there were many factors that could have influenced the death totals, Prof Spector from King's College London said "people will have probably died prematurely" because of the decision.

It is not possible to say for certain, but according to data seen by the BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme show in the last week of March, Cheltenham was among the areas with the highest number of suspected cases.

The data comes from the 'Covid-19 Symptom Study', and it shows an estimated 5-6% of the population, aged 20 to 69, having symptoms in those two regions.

The 'Covid-19 Symptom Study' is different to the government's contact-tracing app.

Its research draws on information uploaded by more than three million volunteers around the UK, who submit daily reports identifying whether they have any of the 15 symptoms associated with Covid-19.

The organisers of the festival, the Jockey club, gave a statement to this newspaper in March after staff and racegoers started to develop symptoms of Covid-19.

The statement said: “The festival went ahead under Government guidance to do so, like other sports events at Twickenham, Murrayfield, 10 Premier League matches and the UEFA Champions League, all with full houses that same week.

“We promoted the latest public health advice and introduced a range of additional hygiene measures at the event including hundreds of hand sanitiser dispensers and extra washbasins, which worked well.”