PUBLIC health experts have called for an investigation into whether allowing Cheltenham festival to go ahead last month led to a rise in the number of local coronavirus cases.

The organisers of the festival, the Jockey club, gave a statement to this newspaper last month 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.”

But since the festival, figures have shown that Gloucestershire hospitals NHS trust has recorded 125 deaths, roughly double that in trusts at Bristol and the trusts covering Swindon and Bath.

Gloucestershire county council said there were many factors that could have influenced the death totals and that the comparisons between the trusts in the West of England weren’t possible.

The former director of public health for Cumbria, Prof John Ashton, has called for the figures to be properly investigated.

Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “We know the festival went ahead and a lot of people will have attended and worked there.

“It’s important we learn about what the potential is for coronavirus transmission at public events.”

Roughly 125,000 people attended the festival from March 10 to March 13.

Dr Andrew Preston of the University of Bath also told The Guardian: "If you look at the numbers by dates there is a general pickup over time, that is what has been seen nationally, but that appears to be greater for Gloucester than elsewhere in the region.

“This does coincide with around two weeks after Cheltenham, which puts this in the right time frame for these infections at around the time of the festival.”