FANS are unlikely to be allowed back into the County Ground any time soon after the government put the brakes on its plans for sporting venues.

Swindon Town supporters had been hoping to return – albeit in limited numbers – as early as Saturday week after pilot events were staged last weekend.

One of them took place at Blackpool, where 1,000 fans watched Town suffer a 2-0 defeat in Sky Bet League One.

It had been hoped this would pave the way for a phased return of spectators to stadiums across the country from October 1 but cabinet minister Michael Gove revealed this morning those plans are now on hold.

The UK’s chief medical officers recommended on Monday that the Covid-19 alert level should be moved from three to four, which means the transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.

Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast: “It was the case that 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. We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme.

“But what we do want to do is to make sure is that as and when circumstances allow get more people back.

“It is the case that we need to be cautious at the moment. A mass reopening would not be appropriate at the moment. We do need to proceed with caution.”

Major sporting events in the UK, including Premier League football, English international cricket and two Formula One races at Silverstone, have been held behind closed doors over the summer.

There has been scrutiny about whether, when coronavirus cases were surging in March, the authorities had been quick to act, and the wisdom of allowing the Cheltenham Festival plus other other high-profile events to go ahead with spectators has been questioned.

Mr Gove added: “The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but it is in the nature of major sporting events that there is a lot of mingling.

“People look back now at the beg of pandemic and look at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead?

“One of the things we must do now, whatever the wisdom of the decisions made then, is to look at sports events now with caution.

“We also recognise that sport’s a vital part of the life of the nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes and our great clubs at what is a challenging time.

“We have been piloting some open-air venues and we do want people to be watching sport.”

Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, expressed his concern at the announcement from Gove.

“If we don’t find a route map with smart solutions to allow sports and live events to gradually reopen, we risk decimation of our sporting and cultural infrastructure,” he wrote on Twitter.