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Governments urged to classify gyms as 'essential services' to avoid lockdown closures, plus £500m sector aid package rumoured

By Tom Walker    06 Oct 2020
ukactive says that unless physical activity facilities are treated as vital to public health, thousands of sites will be forced to shut permanently in the case of a second lockdown / Shutterstock.com/Flamingo Images

The UK and Scottish governments should classify gyms, health clubs, swimming pools and leisure centres as essential services to enable them to stay open during any further lockdowns.

The classification would put these facilities in the same bracket as things such as supermarkets, chemists, banks and doctors surgeries.

The call has been made by industry body, ukactive, which says that unless physical activity facilities are treated as vital to public health, thousands of sites will be forced to shut permanently in the case of a second lockdown.

Earlier this month, a leaked document suggested that the government was considering a three-tier, "traffic light" lockdown system if the number of COVID-19 infections increase to constitute a second wave of the pandemic.

According to reports in the national press, the tiered approach would see physical activity, grassroots sport and leisure businesses being shut at the "red" (the highest) alert level.

Physical activity sector leaders fear that any further closures would be disastrous for operators – ukactive and CIMSPA (Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) have previously stated that up to 48 per cent of public leisure facilities could close by the end of 2020, resulting in the loss of 300,000 jobs.

“As the government is faced with difficult decisions about restrictions to control the virus, fitness and leisure facilities must be recognised alongside essential retail as providing a vital service to the nation," said ukactive CEO Huw Edwards.

“The fitness and leisure sector has a crucial role to play in keeping people in good condition to fight COVID-19 through the autumn and winter.

“We have been sharing the latest data from the sector with governments, showing that the number of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 who have visited facilities – before being confirmed positive – is extremely low," he said.

"This demonstrates the huge efforts being made to ensure people do not visit if they might have the virus.

“It also shows that the proactive protocols put in place by gyms and leisure facilities to prevent people with the virus from visiting them are working, alongside the highest standards of cleanliness, social distancing and safety to reduce the risk of transmission.

“We must remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation closely, so that the government and local authorities are armed with the best possible evidence to inform decisions about the sector.”

Even if centres can remain open, however, many trust-managed facilities are still in need of financial support which they cannot demand, as a result of not being a statutory service.

In July, Edwards told the DCMS Select Committee that the physical activity sector needs a £800m bailout in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown – and that without urgent intervention, up to 50 per cent of the UK's leisure centres could close by the end of the year.

According to the Guardian, however, the government has listened to those concerns and is considering a £500m package to save grassroots facilities from closure, as well as drawing up plans for an urgent rescue package for as many as eight sports, after being warned numerous clubs face financial ruin because of the lack of gate receipts.

gyms  health clubs  swimming pools  leisure centres  ukactive  physical activity  CIMSPA  COVID-19  pandemic  Huw Edwards  
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