Plans for fans to return to watch live sport events in England from 1 October will not go ahead, says cabinet office minister Michael Gove.
The plans were placed under review earlier this month after a rise in coronavirus cases, with pilot events restricted to 1,000 people.
The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has moved to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.
New measures will be set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Gove confirmed plans for a staged return of fans would be “paused”.
“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,” he said.
“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.”
The majority of sports in England have been played behind closed doors since the coronavirus lockdown in March, including Premier League football, the FA Cup final, England’s Test cricket matches and two Formula 1 races at Silverstone.
Sport events that took place with full crowds in March shortly before all fixtures were postponed and the UK locked down have come under scrutiny.
The impact of Liverpool’s Champions League fixture with Atletico Madrid on the spread of coronavirus is being investigated by the city’s council, while there have also been calls for an investigation into whether the Cheltenham Festival should have gone ahead.
The government defended its decision to allow such events to go ahead before restrictions on mass gatherings were introduced.
“People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead,” added Gove.
“What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time.”
More to follow.