Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described a cricket ball as a “natural vector of disease” as he confirmed the sport remains banned outside the elite level.
England are due to play their first Test since the sporting shutdown brought about by the coronavirus pandemic when they face West Indies at the Ageas Bowl on July 8.
The tourists began a three-day intra-squad warm-up match at Emirates Old Trafford on Tuesday.
But it remains unclear when the sport may be allowed to restart at grassroots level, with the PM saying on Tuesday “we’re still working on ways to make cricket more Covid-secure, but we can’t change the guidance yet.”
Tory chair of the science and technology committee Greg Clark asked about the return of cricket, saying: “Can he now specify from his statement whether the ban on cricket has come to an end. Cricket is perhaps our most socially distanced team sport. We’ve lost half the summer, but there is another half left to be enjoyed by players and spectators alike.”
Johnson said: “The problem with cricket as everybody understands, that the ball is a natural vector of disease, potentially, at any rate and we’ve been round it many times with our scientific friends.
“At the moment we’re still working on ways to make cricket more Covid-secure, but we can’t change the guidance yet.”
A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board statement read: “The ECB along with the nation’s cricket players are keen to see the imminent and safe return of our sport at recreational level and have been working hard with government to achieve this.
“We believe that cricket is a non-contact sport, with very low risks of exposure, and that it can be played as safely as many other activities being currently permitted. It is our strong desire to work with government to see the return of recreational cricket on or around 4th July, as they continue to lift other restrictions more broadly across society.
“We are heartened that the government has already permitted the return of other ball sports, including tennis and basketball, and we are sure that our interpretation of the risks around ball transmission is consistent with these other games.
“We can confirm that any guidance we share with the game will include directions on how to mitigate any risk from handling the ball as we continue to prioritise the health and safety of the cricket family in all our decision-making.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted on Tuesday that “subject to public health, our aspiration is to reopen gyms & leisure facilities in mid-July.”
Meanwhile, Sport England released a statement, in which chair Nick Bitel said: “The sport and physical activity sector has been working incredibly hard preparing to reopen leisure, fitness and sports centres, with painstaking measures in place to ensure venues meet public health guidelines
“We understand that difficult choices need to be made as the country exits lockdown, and while it is disappointing for the sector that no specific date has been given for the reopening of facilities today, we will continue to work closely with government to ensure this happens as soon as possible, ideally within the coming weeks, an ambition we know is shared by government.
“It’s important that government continues to engage with the sector to get these facilities open, not just because activity levels will clearly become a vital public health intervention in the new Covid-19 era, but also because the longer they stay closed, the greater the danger to their ability to survive financially.
“We are also continuing to work closely with team sports’ National Governing Bodies to set out a detailed and phased plan for their return, ideally within the coming weeks and welcome confirmation today that outdoor gyms and playgrounds will reopen soon.”
A number of sports reacted with disappointment to the announcement, with British Gymnastics accusing the government of “letting the sports community down”.
A statement read: “British Gymnastics is extremely disappointed that indoor sports have not been given the green light to return.
“The government says that it places great value on the benefits of physical activity, but they are massively letting the sports community down.
“Our 1500 member clubs and the 400,000 children involved in these facilities are desperate to resume gymnastics sessions with their friends and they are not being allowed to get back to sport.
“If the government really believe in the benefit of sport and physical activity on mental and physical health, they need to move to reopen indoor facilities now.”