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29 Oct 2020
Gyms won't automatically shut confirms UK government, in response to Parliamentary petition
By Tom Walker
Gyms won't automatically shut confirms UK government, in response to Parliamentary petition
The UK government has confirmed that gyms will not be included in the baseline measures for any future lockdowns
Photo: Shutterstock.com/Flamingo Images
The UK government has provided a lengthy response to a petition which demanded that gyms stay open in England, even if there's a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

The petition asked firstly for confirmation that gyms won't automatically have to close as part of any COVID-19 lockdown measures and secondly for gyms not to be put in the same group as pubs in terms of risk.

Created in August – before the UK government's new three-tier alert system was announced – the petition went viral and quickly attracted more than 380,000 signatures.

UK Parliament is required to consider all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for a debate and the publication of the outcome of this, with the government publishing its response last night (28 October).

Responses to petitions created by members of the public are normally short and to the point, however, in the case of the petition to ensure gyms remain open, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – led by Oliver Dowden, with Nigel Huddlestone, Parliamentary under-secretary of state for sport, tourism and heritage – provided a detailed reply, running to nearly 500 words and with detailed assurances about the status of gyms.

In it, the DCMS again confirmed that gyms would not be included in the baseline measures for any local lockdowns in England, as required by the government's three-tier system of ‘medium’, ‘high’, or ‘very high’ levels of COVID-19 alertness.

This comes as gyms in France, Germany and Italy are being forced to close.

HCM editor, Liz Terry, said: "Gyms in the UK have shown they are regulated, that they can operate in a COVID-secure way and that they are part of the solution to fighting COVID-19.

"It's not logical to close safe spaces such as gyms – indeed, we should be encouraging people to spend as much time as possible in places where COVID-19 is not transmitted, especially if those places contribute to their health and vitality.

"Exercise has been shown to protect against COVID-19 and so we applaud the UK government's response, which is measured and logical and its decision to support the wellbeing of the vast numbers of people who depend on gyms and leisure centres for the vital exercise they need to stay healthy.

"What is happening in Europe, with the closure of gyms, goes against all logic and will do nothing but undermine the health of the people of those nations, making it far harder for them to maintain their vital fitness levels.

"We support all calls for gyms to reopen in Europe and applaud operators in France and Germany who are taking legal action. The global industry stands firmly behind them.

"The issue is now becoming a matter of basic human rights. The right to exercise and to safeguard and be responsible for your own health is something we must elevate as a cause, unite around as an industry and lobby hard to achieve."

The full UK government statement reads:

"Sports and physical activity are incredibly important for our physical and mental health, and are a vital weapon against coronavirus. That’s why we made sure that people could exercise at least once a day even during the height of lockdown – and why we opened up grassroots sport and leisure facilities as soon as it was safe to do so.

"Outdoor swimming pools have been able to open from 11 July, and from 25 July indoor gyms, leisure centres (including sports halls) and swimming pools in England were able to reopen. However, we have always made clear that we will adopt a phased approach to reopening based on scientific and medical advice, with the primary goal of protecting public health.

"Sports and physical activity providers and facilities are at the heart of our communities, and play a crucial role in supporting adults and children to be active. On 22 October, the Government announced a £100m support fund for local authority leisure centres.

"In addition, Sport England’s Community Emergency Fund is providing £210 million directly to support community sport clubs and exercise centres through this pandemic. We are continuing to work at pace across government to ensure the sector has the support it needs to continue delivering their central role in helping people be active.

"On 11 October, the Prime Minister announced further measures on social contact to manage local outbreaks. Organised outdoor sport, licensed outdoor physical activity and outdoor exercise classes are still exempt from the rule of 6, and can happen in any number. Indoor sport and exercise classes can also continue, in line with the social contact rules in your local area. These new restrictions are necessary as we continue to fight the virus, and we continue to work across the government to make sure the sector has the support it needs throughout this pandemic.

"As part of these measures a three tier COVID system for England was announced which set out different rules for regions classified as being on ‘medium’, ‘high’, or ‘very high’ alert. The closure of gyms and leisure centres is not part of the baseline measures that will automatically apply for Very High Level restrictions.

"However, it remains one of the options open to local authorities to go beyond the baseline restrictions in place for areas under the Very High alert level. I welcome the news that gyms and leisure centres that were previously closed in Liverpool due to its very high alert level are now allowed to re-open from Friday 23 October.

"For areas in this level we will work with local leaders to agree a fuller package of measures going beyond the baseline measures, specific to that area’s situation. These schemes will be co-designed between the local authority and central government."

• To access the petition, click here.

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