The annual event, a highlight on the British social calendar, is the latest public gathering to shift gears given the rising concerns of the novel coronavirus

By Conchita Margaret Widjojo
April 07, 2020 01:13 PM
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Queen Elizabeth and Sophie, Countess of Wessex
| Credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

One of the most anticipated royal social events — and a highlight of the year for horse and hat aficionados alike — is closing its doors to the public amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the official Ascot website announced that the event, which was supposed to take place June 16-20, can no longer be open to the public.

“For public health and safety reasons, we have reached the difficult but unavoidable conclusion that Royal Ascot 2020 will not be able to take place as an event open to the public,” the statement read. “This will of course be a great disappointment for everyone planning to attend.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton
| Credit: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Though the event won’t be open to the public as it normally would, there’s a chance the race could take place without an audience contingent on government and public health policy. The event could still be televised for the public to view at home.

“It may prove possible to run the Royal Ascot races behind closed doors, dependent on Government and public health policy and the approval of the BHA for us to re-start racing,” the statement continued. “This would be for the benefit of the industry, our valued partners and suppliers and our television audiences at home and internationally. Planning for this is now our complete focus and we will update on progress as and when we can.”

Princess Eugenie, Zara Phillips and Kate Middleton
| Credit: James Veysey/Shutterstock

Those who have already purchased for entry and hospitality at the event will be fully refunded.

“We thank everyone in advance for their patience and understanding in completing this substantial task given the challenging practical circumstances of the current national lockdown,” the statement said. “The pandemic will have a significant financial impact on our business in 2020, along with so many others. Nevertheless, Ascot racecourse will come through this crisis and we look forward to being able to welcome racegoers back when it is safe to do so.”

Prince Charles and Prince William
| Credit: James Veysey/Shutterstock

Royal Ascot is one of Queen Elizabeth‘s favorite events of the season. As Britain’s most iconic horse race event, it attracts the world’s finest racehorses to compete for millions in prize money — and the royal family takes center stage. The signature accessory of the Royal Ascot dress code: hats, which are on eye-catching display throughout the races.

The procession sees Queen Elizabeth and her guests make their entrance to Ascot in a number of Landau carriages every day at precisely 2 o’clock. The Queen’s carriage leads the procession, with others following behind. Only invited guests of the Queen are granted seats in the carriages.

Queen Elizabeth and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
| Credit: James Veysey/Shutterstock
Natalie Dormer
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

The Queen, who is passionate about horses, brings members of her family with her on each of the five days of the event.

Other royals who join the 93-year-old monarch include Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess Eugenie. Members of other European royal families are also in attendance, from King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.

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Celebrities such as Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, One Direction’s Liam Payne and Demi Moore have also attended in the past.

Other royal events that has been canceled or postponed include the Queen’s garden parties, Trooping the Colour, the Invictus Games and the Chelsea Flower Show.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.