Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres will reopen in England within days as part of the government’s lockdown easing, with the UK culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, suggesting “normal life is slowly returning”.
Outdoor pools can reopen from Saturday 11 July and indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities may open from Saturday 25 July with new guidance on spacing out and cleaning equipment, plus limiting the number of people in facilities and smaller class sizes.
Certain team sports such as cricket will also be able to return from this weekend and outdoor theatre and music will also be possible from Saturday with limited audiences.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Dowden said: “We pressed pause on many of the things that brighten our lives [in March] … but as we’ve made huge progress against this disease, we’ve gradually seen the things we love return. Normal life is slowly returning.”
Dowden said following hairdressers reopening on 4 July, beauticians, tattooists, spas, and tanning salons, and other “close contact services” like nail bars, can also reopen from Monday. However, necessary restrictions on procedures carried out directly in-front of the face will severely limit what some businesses can offer.
The move to reopen as many fitness facilities as possible comes as Boris Johnson is said to be putting renewed focus on his own health and tackling the nation’s obesity levels.
Dowden said: “Exercise is incredibly important for both physical and mental health. Even at the height of the lockdown it was considered an essential activity.
“Of course we hoped to do this [reopening] sooner but we really do have to face this properly. We’ll be giving gyms the certainty, clarity and time to reopen safely so the maximum can open their doors in two weeks time.”
Gym chains and trainers had expressed disappointment after the sector was left out of the loosening of restrictions that came into effect last weekend, which allowed pubs, restaurants and bars to reopen.
At the time, the chief executive of PureGym, the UK’s biggest gym chain, said the decision seemed odd in the light of Johnson’s stated intention to improve the UK’s health after the Covid-19 crisis.
“It is a strange war on obesity that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms,” Humphrey Cobbold said.
The new guidance for gyms, pools and leisure centres includes limiting the number of people using any facility at one time, which may require booking systems to be put in place. It is also recommended that in a gym each person has 100 sq ft, or approximately nine square metres, of space to use, which would include the toilet and changing areas.
Among the other measures suggested are improving cleaning and providing hand sanitiser throughout venues; ensuring there is better ventilation, and temporary floor markings for exercise or dance studios.
As well as limiting numbers able to use pools, people are advised to arrive in their swimming costumes to minimise the amount of time in changing rooms.
Recreational team sports such as cricket are able to begin their return from 11 July if they can show Covid-secure plans, which the England and Wales Cricket Board has already submitted to government.
Supporters will also be allowed to attend community fixtures in small numbers provided they are in groups of two households only, or no larger than six people from different households, and adhere to social distancing measures.
Each individual sport will be able to submit to the government an action plan showing how it plans to operate.
The action plans must recognise that the return of recreational sport may need to be paused in the event of a raised Covid-19 threat level either nationally or locally.
Organisers will be asked to help track and trace efforts by collecting information on participants at both training and matches.
Sports where a single ball is used, such as basketball, cricket and football, need to include how they will reduce the risk of this transmitting the virus.
Asked during the press conference what the scientific basis is for opening gyms and nail bars, and if there has been an assessment since last weekend’s reopening of pubs and restaurants, Dowden said he had consulted with the chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty.
“The data is continuing to move in the right direction so prior to the 4 July we announced a number of easements … we haven’t seen as a result of those easements the number increasing, in fact it continues to decline,” he said.
The department for business advised the beauty sector that face waxing, eyelash treatments, make-up application and facial treatments, will not be allowed until government advice changes, due to the much greater risk of transmission.
Millie Kendall, from the British Beauty Council, said: “The decision to broaden the scope of available hair and beauty services will allow many more beauty professionals to get back to work, and will also allow customers to benefit from a range of beauty treatments which can be carried out safely for both client and practitioner.
“It’s a positive step, but we are still only part of the way there.”