Hopes that British racecourses would be able to welcome spectators back at their tracks from October 1 were dashed on Tuesday morning when cabinet minister Michael Gove revealed the return of fans to sporting events have been called off.

Earlier this month, the plans were placed under review after a rise in coronavirus cases and pilot events were limited to a maximum of 1,000 spectators. That limit applied to Warwick’s meeting on Monday, where 497 people were in attendance.

With the Covid-19 alert level moved to four, meaning transmission is ‘high or rising exponentially’, the staged return will no longer happen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out new measures in the commons on Tuesday afternoon which could be in place for as long as the next six months.

The announcement means that Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting, which starts on Thursday, will take place behind closed doors as racing has done since it resumed in June.

In response, racing’s industry leaders issued a statement warning of the consequences the sport faces following the latest announcement.

It said: “The delay to the public’s return to sporting events is a serious blow to the horseracing industry and to the people and communities who depend upon it for their living.

“Our sport has worked hard with public health officials to return safely and carry out pilot events. The exemplary response from the spectators in following the measures we put in place has shown that organised events can be run safely. We look forward to a full evaluation of all the pilots and for the evidence to be used to inform future decisions about sporting events.

“Despite all those efforts, our industry is now facing a severe threat. We are the second most attended spectator sport in the country. Without the millions of people who normally enjoy a day at the races, many people’s jobs are at serious risk, as are the businesses they work in.

“We know this is recognised from the regular discussions we have had with ministers and we thank them for their strong support in these difficult times.

“We have kept the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments updated on the financial impact of Covid and the effects on the rural economies in which so many of our racing staff live and work. We have told the UK government our racecourses were facing a loss of £250 to £300 million of revenues this year, which in turn means less prize-money flowing through to our participants and our owners.

“We will be conducting a further economic impact assessment and will work with government to put in place financial assistance to protect livelihoods and rural communities.

“We were pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently to do what they can to support our sector. The Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority, Nick Rust, will attend a meeting with the Culture Secretary this afternoon.

“We have worked closely with the betting industry during our safe return from lockdown. Responsible betting is part of the fun of racing. It benefits both industries, flowing back into racing to create jobs and fund the care of horses.

“But British racing does not benefit to the extent of our European counterparts for structural reasons. We have seen growing signs that our best horses are being lured elsewhere by the promise of greater financial rewards. We believe the case for urgent reform has been made. This will be part of the assessment we share with government.”

Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the BHA, added: “Racing’s leaders are responding to this crisis by working together like never before. We are working to a recovery plan, but today’s announcement will set back our progress.

“We will urge the government to provide financial support, as they have indicated they are considering, and to accept the case for urgent reform of the Levy.

“Our loyal owners and our key international investors have stood by us and we ask government to work with us to maintain that confidence in racing and in Britain.”