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14 Oct 2020
PureGym considers legal action as UK fitness industry fights back against forced closures in Liverpool
By Tom Walker
PureGym considers legal action as UK fitness industry fights back against forced closures in Liverpool
Gyms in Liverpool, the first city to be classed as tier 3, are set to close on Wednesday (14 October)
Photo: Shutterstock.com/Gutesa
Gym and health club operators with sites in Liverpool, UK, have been left "astounded" at the government's "retrograde step" in ordering gyms to close in the city, as part of its controversial new three-tier COVID-19 control system*.

The decision has been met with universal anger among health club operators – with the sector vowing to fight the ruling.

Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of PureGym, said the company is considering going legal, saying: "We're extremely disappointed to have to close our gyms in the Liverpool area.

"We urge the mayors and leaders of the Liverpool City Region to reconsider this retrograde step, which has no scientific basis and we challenge the Government to present the data that supports this decision.

“If they fail to do so, they will be actively contributing to the wilful destruction of a sector that is an essential service, at a time when many operators are already in financial distress,” he told the Guardian.

“We will consider any and every course of action that can be taken to support our industry and members, including recourse to legal processes if that is what it takes,” he said.

"The facts and data we have at a national and local level indicate clearly that gyms are safe, with no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in gyms.

"At a local Liverpool level, we at PureGym have seven facilities in the area and since reopening, there have been over 300,000 visits by around 31,000 members.

"During this time period we have been notified of only 11 members and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, and crucially, we have seen no confirmed cases of transmission of the virus in our facilities in the Liverpool area – nor indeed across our estate of 276 gyms in the UK and 516 facilities (and over 15m visits) in total across Europe."

Meanwhile, Glenn Earlam, CEO of David Lloyd Clubs, questioned the decision to close gyms, while allowing other facilities, with questionable track records in preventing COVID-19 transmission, to keep operating.

“We are astounded by Liverpool City Council’s decision to close gyms and leisure centres, while still allowing restaurants to remain open," he said.

"Today the BBC reports that restaurants are one of the highest settings for COVID exposure, at nearly 10 per cent, along with shopping centres at 3.4 per cent – both of which remain open – compared with just 1.4 per cent in gyms, so this decision defies all logic.

"Indeed, since our clubs reopened on 25 July we have had just eight cases from more than 130,000 member visits in our two clubs in the area at Knowsley and Speke, with – most critically – not a single known in-club transmission."

Industry body, ukactive, has also weighed in, calling for a full consultation before gyms and leisure facilities in Liverpool are closed.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “Following yesterday’s announcement of new restrictions in Liverpool, we are calling for an immediate pause on the decision to close the gyms and leisure centres in the city, until genuine consultation with key local and industry stakeholders has taken place, and the appropriate data and evidence consulted.

“The government has committed to undertake consultation prior to any closure of gyms and leisure facilities, but this consultation has not taken place.

“We also note that the Mayors in the region, Joe Anderson and Steve Rotherham, have argued the case that gyms and leisure centres should not close, and both have also stressed that no consultation has taken place.

“The SAGE documentation released by the government last night makes no reference to the latest safety data for the sector in the UK – evidence which demonstrates the effective implementation of the guidance that our sector co-produced with the Government and SAGE.

“There is a clear and urgent need for all parties to work together, with central government and local stakeholders, to review this decision, before any gyms and leisure centres are forced to close unnecessarily.

“We continue to call for decisions to be made on the latest available scientific and operational evidence.

“Our sector must be allowed to play its full role in supporting the nation’s physical and mental resilience to COVID-19 at this time.”

Documents released by SAGE show that the increasingly beleagured government was told in September that closing gyms would not have a major impact in terms of reducing the impact of the pandemic, but that it would undermine people's mental and physical health.

Data from ukactive shows that gyms are continuing to successfully control COVID-19 transmission.

There were 22 million visits to fitness facilities during the two months following reopening, with the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 visits logged as 0.34, with no community transmission occurring.

* BACKGROUND
The UK government's COVID-19 control tier system classifies English regions as being on medium (tier 1), high (tier 2) or very high (tier 3) alert, and gyms and leisure centres in areas deemed as being in tier 3 locations have been told to close their doors.

Liverpool is the first and only place so far to be classed as tier 3, and facilities there are set to close today (Wednesday 14th October), along with a raft of other facilities, including pubs and casinos.


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