New lockdown measures for England will come into force on Thursday, November 5th.
Boris Johnson announced the second lockdown on Saturday just weeks after telling MPs that it would be “…completely wrong for this country."
Many businesses in England now face another shutdown but what does this second lockdown mean for gyms? And what has been happening to fitness and leisure centres in other parts of the UK.
What Is the Government Including in the Second Lockdown?
According to the Government’s website, certain businesses will have to close and this includes:
“Leisure and sports facilities such as leisure centres and gyms, swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios, climbing walls, archery, driving, and shooting ranges.”
It’s very clear in the guidelines that gyms and fitness centres WILL have to close on November 5th until at least December 2nd.
Individuals will still be able to exercise outdoors and with other members of their household or with one other person that they don’t live with.
This is different from the first lockdown where a person could only exercise alone or with someone from their support bubble or household and only once a day.
How Long Will Gyms Be Closed?
Gyms in England will be closed until December 2nd at the earliest. According to the Telegraph, the Government has an exit strategy which will include re-establishing the tier system and extending local lockdowns where necessary.
For gyms and other industries affected, the shutdown could last for weeks or even months after this latest lockdown is lifted.
Gyms would need to have approval from their local authority to open
Do Gyms Pose a COVID Risk?
It’s difficult to tell what impact gyms have had on spreading the virus. Certainly, when you look at percentage of people infected, gyms make up a smaller total amount that supermarkets, bars, shops, schools and care homes. The UK’s Test and Trace data show that only 2.8% of reported COVID cases can be traced in some way back to a gym. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that infected people caught the virus there.
As the BBC points out when reported on this, it’s hard to know whether 2.8% is significant or not. For example, more people visit the supermarket than the gym so is it fair to compare percentages?
Men’s Health reported on a study by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University which analysed 62 million gym visits from 14 European countries and found that gyms posed a very low risk of infection: just 0.78 cases per 100,000 visits.
But when we exercise, we breathe more heavily producing more respiratory droplets and sending them into the air around us or onto nearby surfaces. The concern is that this increased rate of breathing in an enclosed space (where there’s also shared equipment) as well could be a bigger risk factor that someone walking around a supermarket or visiting a hospital. These are some of the arguments outlined by virologist Professor Jonathon Bell speaking to BBC Newsbeat, but he goes on to say that many of these risks can be mitigated by social distancing, effective air conditioning, regular deep cleaning and hand washing.
And we already know that gyms have made a big effort to limit the risk of COVID since reopening in July.
Professor Bell ends by saying that "From the data that I've seen from Public Health England, I'm not aware that there is a significant hotspot for infections in the gym environment.”
How Have Gyms Responded to the Second Lockdown?
There’s been considerable push-back from industry leaders since the new lockdown was announced. There’s the obvious economic impact of another lockdown both on gym owners and on their employees, but there’s also concern that restricting people’s access to exercise will have a detrimental effect on the public’s health. Often quoted in support of this is Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty who said at the beginning of the pandemic that exercise was the ‘best thing’ you could do during the lockdown.
The problem for people now is that we’re heading towards winter. The nights are longer and the weather is colder and less suited to exercising outdoors. Without access to sport’s facilities, people may well be less encouraged to work out when it’s dark and bitterly cold. In some places, it may also be unsafe to do so.
UKactive is the industry’s body and they’ve asked anyone in the fitness sector to contact their MP to ask for gyms to remain open as “essential services”. This is ahead of a House of Commons debate scheduled for Wednesday, November 4th.
Several MPs have already raised the question with the Prime Minister who seems unmoved by the suggestion that gyms are should remain open. He says that the effectiveness of a second lockdown is dependent on treating everything as a whole package.
There have been several reports in national newspapers about gyms preparing to defy the lockdown. The Metro has reported on one gym-owner in East Devon who insists she is ‘undaunted’ by the threat of being fined for opening and will stay open for the mental health of her clients.
Anytime Fitness released a statement on November 2nd saying it was disappointed by the announcement and that if the Government was unwilling to allow gyms to remain open then it had to provide financial support to ensure businesses don’t struggle and close during the shutdown. The statement ends with: “As a sector, we cannot take this lying down. We are a direct solution to the public health crisis and are being held back from playing the integral role we know we can play in the nation’s recovery. People’s physical and mental health are at stake as well as people’s jobs and livelihoods and we will be campaigning with all our might to ensure we’re able to reopen at the earliest possible opportunity and provide an essential service to the nation”. You can read the full statement on the Anytime Fitness website.
What About Gyms in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?
Currently, gyms are open in Scotland but it will depend on which tier an area is in as to whether small classes go ahead. Gyms are still open in Northern Ireland, too.
Gyms in Wales were forced to close in October as part of a 17-day firebreak to control rising infection rates. Gyms and fitness facilities will be able to open from November 9th.
A second lockdown is the last thing the gym industry wanted especially as so many businesses have put money and effort into making their venues COVID safe. In the statement made by Anytime Fitness, it asks for a financial package to support an industry now facing another 4-weeks or more with zero revenue.
The economic impact is easier to track but it’s much harder to see what a second lockdown will mean for the mental and physical health of a country battling rising infection rates. With fewer daylight hours and less opportunity for people to enjoy exercising outdoors in the cold weather, we can only hope that this lockdown will be short and successful enough for businesses to begin their recovery and for members to be able to access what is, for many of them, an essential service.
Don't forget to check out our at-home gym equipment during the second lockdown so you can stay fit even when the gyms are shut.