Gyms, health clubs and leisure centres will be able to open their doors when the current lockdown measures in England come to an end on 2 December.
More importantly, fitness and physical activity facilities will be able to remain open under all three tiers of the government's new COVID-19 alert system, which will be introduced when lockdown ends, although group exercise will be restricted to "people from the same household or bubble", a decision which has operators scratching their heads in bemusement.
Announcing the government’s “COVID-19 Winter Plan” in parliament today (23 November), Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed physical activity facilities will not be included in any of the baseline measures in the tiered system.
All grassroots and amateur sport can also resume under the three-tier system – and will be allowed to stay open in all three tiers, with certain restrictions which are to be confirmed over the next few days.
Spectators will also be allowed back into stadiums and grounds in areas which are under Tier 1 or Tier 2 restrictions. A maximum of 4,000 fans can attend outdoor events in Tier 1 areas, while in Tier 2 areas the maximum number of spectators has been set at 2,000. For indoor venues, up to 1,000 spectators are allowed in Tiers 1 and 2. Venues in Tier 3 areas will continue to be out of bounds for fans.
The physical activity sector has welcomed the decision to reopen doors to fitness facilities – and to exclude them from Tier 3 restrictions.In his statement,
PM Johnson also outlined restrictions on other areas of public life: “Tier one will now mean that people should continue to work from home where possible.
“The tiers will also now be a uniform set of measures, with no local negotiations.
“For any business and business owners that will be affected by the new tiered approach, I can only say that I’m very sorry for the hardship caused
“But we must get through winter without the virus getting out of control and squandering hard-won gains.”
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “This announcement shows a positive shift in the Government’s desire to strengthen our nation’s physical and mental resilience by using the gyms and leisure facilities at the heart of our communities.
“However, we are disappointed to note that indoor group exercise is included in tier 3 restrictions and will not be permitted unless in household groups or bubbles, as the sector has proven this activity can be undertaken in a manner that is safe, using a combination of social distancing, sanitisation and increased ventilation. We will make representations to the government and aim to get this changed.
“Reopening in England is clearly a major milestone and the second lockdown has seen our sector mobilise in an incredible way, with facilities and their members lobbying their local representatives to reinforce the evidence that these services are essential and COVID-secure.
“Our sector must continue to make the case for greater support and recognition as an essential service for communities across the UK, and we will continue to challenge the rationale for closing facilities in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Looking forward, the fitness and leisure sector still requires a tailored package of support for its recovery in 2021, including a combination of business rate relief, VAT exemptions, and incentives that not only help to rebuild, but also encourage more people back into physical activity.
“The economic recovery of our sector is inextricably linked with the future of our nation’s health, and this package of support requires increased public health messaging about physical activity, through both the Better Health campaign and the Prime Minister’s obesity strategy.
“Furthermore, we are calling on the government to conduct a cross-departmental review that provides an accurate analysis of the role the physical activity sector plays in our society, and set clear recommendations for its inclusion in policymaking across government.
“Many of the issues in the Government’s in-tray can be supported by our sector, from mental health conditions, type 2 diabetes, and loneliness, through to the future of our high streets and crime reduction.
“Reopening is a major milestone, but it’s also just a start; we now need to continue our constructive engagement with the Government to secure the support the sector needs and agree a plan that ensures it can play its full role in improving the health and wellbeing of the nation.”
Ben Beevers, group development director at leisure operator Everyone Active, said:
“We’re delighted to reopen our leisure centres, following today’s announcement from the government. After being closed for a month, this good news is what Everyone Active and the leisure industry has been eagerly awaiting.
“Like everyone else, we expect to get more clarity on the guidance and tiered structure later this week. But once we’ve fully digested, we’ll be working hard in line with the guidelines to ensure our members can safely return to our centres across the UK.
“Giving people the opportunity to resume activity and exercise at our leisure centres will go a long way to maintaining the good health of local communities, particularly during the winter months when daylight hours are reduced.
“We’re pleased to see the government has acknowledged the important role of the leisure industry to support the health and wellbeing of individuals across the UK.
“In the weeks and months before the second lockdown, we worked hard with our colleagues to ensure we had implemented strict measures in the cleanliness and safety of our centres.
"As we continue to call for health and fitness to be seen as an essential service for communities, we’re hopeful this latest announcement highlights a key change in how the government thinks about the industry and makes future decisions.”
Tara Dillon, CIMSPA CEO, said: “We clearly welcome this decision, which is a reflection of the government recognising the essential role our sector plays in the nation’s health, society and economy. This is a result of the consistent and persuasive campaigning by many organisations across the sector, the workforce and the general public.
“It’s also a result of the excellent work showing that gyms and leisure facilities are COVID-secure environments, staffed by a highly qualified, professional workforce.
“Sport and physical activity is part of the solution to COVID, not part of the problem. We believe that these facilities should never have been forced to close in the first place and we urge the Government to ensure that they are now permitted to stay open during any further lockdowns.
“Our sector is an essential service, supporting the nation’s physical and mental health, bringing communities together and saving the NHS £9.5bn every year. Throughout the pandemic, exercise has been promoted as an essential daily activity and, especially during the winter months, access to gyms and leisure facilities is vital in helping many millions of people to maintain their physical and mental health.
“We are also acutely aware of the financial impact of COVID-19 on individual workers in our sector, especially the many thousands of self-employed and freelance professionals who have not qualified for any government support. CIMSPA is actively working with partners across the UK to find ways of providing this group with some financial support.”