While we welcome the Government’s decision to not enforce leisure and fitness facilities to close as part of its baseline measures in the new tiered lockdown system, it’s disheartening and illogical that the decision has been taken in Liverpool to close gyms as part of additional safety measures.
This is particularly disappointing in light of statements made by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, who both vocally stated that they did not wish for gyms and leisure centres to close and were not given the choice that yesterday’s announcement suggested.
In documents that came to light following the announcement of gym closures yesterday, a SAGE meeting regarding COVID-19 on 21st September on non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) has showed that leading Government scientists believe gyms are not impacting on the R number of COVID-19 and closing them could negatively impact mental health.
The timing of this data being published couldn’t be more ironic and shows that the decision to close gyms in Liverpool isn’t based on science or logic, even more so when you factor in the data that was presented by Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, to local authorities and MPs that shows gyms are second bottom in terms of settings where the virus is being spread. The same figures shared by Professor Whitty showed that risk of exposure to the virus is significantly higher in retail stores, which are able to remain open in areas that are most affected by COVID-19.
These closures will have catastrophic effects on the leisure and fitness industry with inevitable business failures to follow, and we demand to see the data from the Government that this decision has been based on. There are people’s businesses and livelihoods at stake as well as the negative physical and mental health effects on communities. We have three independently owned clubs who will be shutting their doors at midnight tonight and immediately seeing their revenue reduced to nothing. People need to be held to account and there should be legal ramifications for closing businesses without sufficient justification. Something that will no doubt be forthcoming should there not be positive engagement from the Government in the coming hours.
We appreciate the challenges faced nationally and locally in combatting COVID-19 but as the data and science tells us, closing essential leisure and fitness facilities is not the answer. In the absence of a vaccine, physical activity and health are the most effective ways of fighting COVID-19 and leisure facilities are providing an essential service to the population and proving to be keeping people safe. In stark contrast to the spring and summer lockdown, people are less able to be outdoors given the change in weather conditions and this is highly likely to mean that activity levels significantly drop and have significant knock-on effects for people’s mental and physical health at a critical time when we’re fighting the virus.
During a national health crisis, we urge local authorities who see their area placed into the ‘Very High’ level of risk category to engage and stand with the leisure and fitness sector. Please take into account the data and science and allow us to continue delivering an essential service to improve the health of the nation and avoid the detrimental long-term physical and mental health effects of enforcing further gym closures.
Exercise and physical activity have been a lifeline for people in these past seven months and the impressive usage figures across the industry show that our facilities are more important than ever to their local communities.
We will passionately support ukactive in their collaboration with local authorities across the UK to prevent further unnecessary gym closures. We will support our affected clubs in Merseyside and work closely with ukactive as they strive to overturn the closure decision.
Neil Randall, Anytime Fitness UK CEO