After 47 gruelling days of lockdown, the end is in sight. The PM has laid out his plans for a phased return to normality to the nation, starting with the reopening of schools on March 8. The regional tier system has been scrapped, with restrictions lifted gradually across the whole of England in four stages staggered five weeks apart.
Providing COVID cases, hospital admissions, vaccinations and deaths fall within certain parameters, and no new variants emerge, the ‘rule of six’ – whereby six people from up to six different households can meet outside – will return on March 29, along with organised outdoor sports like football, golf, basketball and tennis.
The nation’s beer gardens will welcome punters in the second phase, which is expected to come into effect on 12 April, at the same time as gyms, studios and fitness centres – by which time, the government will have offered the first COVID-19 jab to everyone over 50.
Speaking on LBC this morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said lifting restrictions is a case of “outdoors versus indoors”. “The simple way to look at this is that outdoor is safer and therefore we prioritise versus indoor,” he said. “Outdoors is the priority because it’s where the transmission rates are much, much, much lower.”
April likely can’t come quick enough for gym owners and operators across the country, who were forced to shut their doors on January 5. “It’s a really tough time for our industry,” says Dave Thomas, co-founder of The Foundry in London. “There’s been no support for the fitness industry at all.
“It doesn’t seem to match the government’s enthusiasm for trying to get the nation healthy, [and] the sound bites that have come up about the role of gyms in keeping the British public healthy,” he continues. “We all know obesity is a risk factor for COVID and all sorts of other comorbidities as well, so you would imagine we’d be seen as a key partner in that challenge.”
Gyms have been proven to pose a remarkably low risk of infection. In the UK, according to government figures, while the case rate for the general population rose consistently between July and October – with a steep acceleration from September onwards – the prevalence of the virus remained “extremely low” across the UK fitness and leisure sector.
“In a lot of gyms, especially smaller operators like us, it’s actually very easy to adhere to social distancing guidelines,” Thomas continues. “In the gym, in our experience, people were all very careful, keeping their distance, and adhering to all the guidelines.”
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