Gyms and sport stars demand PM U-turn on 'devastating' lockdown closures

2 November 2020, 16:25

Gyms have introduced extensive Covid safety protocols - only to be shut down again
Gyms have introduced extensive Covid safety protocols - only to be shut down again. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Gym owners and grassroots sport leaders have accused the Government of "ignoring the science" as they face being forced to shut this week under the second national lockdown.

Boris Johnson is facing growing calls to U-turn and allow gyms, swimming pools and outdoor sports to continue when England enters a four-week shutdown from Thursday, which ministers have not ruled out lasting longer.

More than 470,000 people have petitioned to demand gyms stay open, as sport chiefs sound alarm at the nation’s physical and mental health crumbling.

Former Paralympic champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chair of grassroots body UK Active, has written to the Prime Minister urging him to treat gyms and leisure centres as “essential services”.

Read more: Government plans to return to covid Tier system after December 2, PM says

“With the onset of winter, outdoor exercise will be much less appealing so the provision so the provision of safe facilities for physical activity will be vital,” she wrote, warning of “longer term public health challenges” if they are shuttered.

Olympic medalist Sharron Davies called the gym and leisure closures "crazy".

Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of PureGym, the UK’s largest gym chain, said: "Closing gyms will damage the nation’s physical and mental health. It is also a regressive decision that will have more of an impact on lower socio-economic groups who live in more densely populated urban areas where there is less outside space to exercise.”

He added: “The Government repeatedly claim their decisions are based on the data but that is not the case in this instance and we urge them to look again at the facts. Since gyms re-opened in early July, transmission of Covid-19 in gyms has been very low and our gyms are Covid secure based on protocols approved by PHE and SAGE.

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“Industry data, taken from a sample of over 5 million gym visits per week, finds only 2.88 cases per 100,000 visits in the most recent week for which data is available (week ending 11 October). The UK case rate in the general population in the same week was 150.83 cases per 100,000.”

He added that there have been zero “spreader events” of transmission inside gyms, and only a handful of staff have tested positive, and millions of pounds have been spent on extensive hygiene and distancing protocols in gyms.

“To conclude we urge the national Government to seriously reconsider their decision to close gyms,” Mr Cobbold added. “If they fail to do so they will have to face and live with the consequences of a less healthy population and associated poorer health outcomes including a weaker immune system.”

The Government has cleared non-elite football clubs to compete in the FA Cup this weekend along with elite sports, but has resisted calls to keep golf courses and tennis courts open - despite an anti-obesity drive launched in the summer.

Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England, said it was a “horrendous” situation with 200 swimming pools already shut permanently since the first lockdown, and fears further facilities may never reopen.

Stressing transmission in pools is evidentially very low, she added: “People who can’t exercise on land and can exercise in water, we’re just slamming the door on them.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said guidance sets out that individuals can exercise in a public space with one other person from another household or their support bubble, or with someone from their own household.