Gym bosses desperate to reopen - as pub manager asks ‘how do I choose who can come in?'

24 June 2020, 09:35

By Kate Buck

Some business owners have reacted angrily to plans to ease the lockdown rules in England, with gym bosses questioning why they haven't been allowed to reopen.

Bosses at pubs, which are being allowed to open their doors from July 4, have raised questions over how they will manage to operate with 1m social distancing in place.

One pub manager told LBC News she thinks customers will simply ignore social distancing when they reopen.

Gym bosses criticised the government's decision to keep their businesses closed as "illogical".

Yesterday, Boris Johnson paved the way for Brits in England to get back into the pub and into restaurants, so long as social distancing measures are followed.

Hairdressers will also be permitted to open again, and people will finally be able to reunite with loved ones in their own homes once again.

But he added "difficult judgements" had been made in keeping a number of other businesses closed, including indoor gyms, tattoo parlours and nail bars.

Read more: Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers: What are the new coronavirus lockdown rules in England?

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Julie Chalker, who runs the George pub in Yalding, Kent, told LBC News: "I don't feel like I have the right to tell someone "I'm sorry, but we're full up already" if we've only got 30 people in here.

"How can I choose who can come in and have a drink and who can't. And the customers I have in here will not be in here for an hour or so and say well let's give someone else a chance."

Ms Chalker also add that she thought people would just ignore rules.

Pubs have also been told that bar service should not be used, and instead staff members should operate a table service.

Indoor gyms have to remain closed for a while longer
Indoor gyms have to remain closed for a while longer. Picture: PA

But this, she said, was "impossible".

She also questioned how she could "police the toilets" to ensure customers abided by social distancing and followed correct hygiene rules.

Gym chiefs have criticised the decision and said letting pubs and restaurants reopen while keeping exercise facilities closed could lead to people becoming more at risk of Covid-19.

Glenn Earlam, chief executive of David Lloyd Clubs, said it was a "completely illogical" move.

He said: "So what we hear is that pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen, but health and fitness facilities won't be able to. To us this is bizarre because we are part of the solution.

"If people come to health and fitness facilities it helps boost their immune system, the chief medical officer has regularly said that health and fitness is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19."

And pub bosses also have fears about opening up this early, worrying that customers may not abide by all the distancing rules which have been laid out.

Julie Chalker, who runs the George pub in Yalding, Kent, said she doesn't know how they are going to be able to operate
Julie Chalker, who runs the George pub in Yalding, Kent, said she doesn't know how they are going to be able to operate. Picture: PA

PureGym, one of the UK's largest operators with more than one million members, said in a statement: "We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange 'war on obesity' that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms.

"Our facilities are, on average, the size of five or six doubles tennis courts and are exceptionally well ventilated, enabling people to work and exercise safely and securely."

Mark Sesnan, managing director of GLL, which operates 270 leisure and sports facilities on behalf of local authorities in the UK, told PA he was "flabbergasted" by the announcement.

Mr Sesnan said: "We know that people who have gone into Covid with good health have better outcomes than people who haven't so we are a bit shocked and amazed that the Government think it's more important to have pubs open rather than facilities for people to take healthy activities in.

"Speaking as someone who enjoys a pint and a meal myself, I can see the mental health of the nation benefits by getting back to some sort of normality as well, but it surely can't be a higher priority.

"They need to wake up and smell the coffee, that there's nothing to be gained by keeping these leisure centres closed."

After the Prime Minister's announcement, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted that the "aspiration" was to reopen gyms by mid-July.

Detailed sector-by-sector guidance is expected later on Thursday on how businesses can reopen in a Covid-secure manner.

Many of those affected include close proximity between households, such as indoor gyms, soft play areas, swimming pools and nightclubs will remain closed.

Boris Johnson has now began to open up certain areas in England
Boris Johnson has now began to open up certain areas in England. Picture: PA

Parts of the beauty sector will remain shut including spas, nail bars, tattoo parlours, beauty salons and massage parlours.

Bowling alleys, water parks and casinos will also not be allowed to reopen.

Indoor sports and dance venues and skating rinks will stay closed but outdoor gyms will be allowed to reopen.

Addressing close-proximity businesses such as nightclubs, Mr Johnson added that taskforces with public health experts will help them reopen "as soon as possible".

The trade body representing the night-time economy has welcomed the decision to allow some businesses to reopen, but warned that many businesses will struggle.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NITA) called on the Government to give further financial support to businesses in the sector.

He said: "For many of our members, including nightclubs, casinos and some pubs, restaurants and bars that can't meet the one-metre social distancing obligations, the nightmare of enforced closure goes on.

"Businesses operating in the night-time economy have needs distinct from those operating in more general hospitality and it would be unforgivable if those needs are not taken into account by Government."

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A Treasury spokesman said it had provided "a generous and wide-ranging package of support for businesses".

They said: "Our job retention scheme, for example, has protected more than nine million jobs across the UK and we have extended it until October - meaning it will have been open for eight months and will continue to support businesses as the economy reopens."

Alongside furloughing staff, other support measures have included the Business Interruption Loan Schemes, a £10,000 grant for small businesses, a £25,000 grant and business rates holiday for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The spokesman added: "We will continue to look at how to adjust our schemes in a way that ensures businesses are supported, protecting both the UK economy and the livelihoods of people across the country."

A DCMS spokeswoman said: "We are continuing to work with representatives from the gym and leisure centre sectors on plans for a safe, phased reopening with the ambition for this to happen from mid-July, subject to public health guidance. We need to make sure that plans are comprehensive with all risks minimised."