- Gyms in the UK could open their doors as early as July after a roadmap was 'enthusiastically received' by government from UKactive, a fitness trade body
- New safety measures could included a limited capacity, 2m between equipment and temperature checks at the door
- According to a recent survey, 87% of gym-goers are likely to resume their membership once gyms and health facilities reopen
When will gyms reopen? It's a question on everyone's lips that, despite recent government advice, remains to be answered in full. On 10 May, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on coronavirus, with a mixed reaction from the public.
"Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity," said Johnson, who contracted and recovered from coronavirus in April. "We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health."
"I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R [rate of infection] down."
Mr Johnson's address signalled a change in the way the UK is approaching 'lockdown', as the country moves into a new phase of containment, allowing non-essential shops and retail areas to open from 15 June. Many topics were explored — from going back to work to schools and universities returning to education — but one of the most discussed issues was that of safe exercise and the re-introduction of gyms and health centres.
If a Sport England/Savanta ComRes survey is anything to go by, it's a decision that's crucial to the public. The survey of over 2000 people showed that the British public misses going to the gym or a fitness centre considerably more than any other sporting or leisure activity.
14% of respondents chose the gym, ahead of swimming (13%), football (5%) and, in addition, found that 87% of gym members were likely to resume their membership once facilities had re-opened after the 'lockdown'.
Currently, this is what the rules from the UK government stipulate:
- As of Wednesday 13 May, people in England have been able to spend time outdoors "for leisure purposes"
- People can "take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise" instead of only exercising once daily
- People are free to sit in parks, and "play sports" with people from the same household
- Social distancing rules – keeping at least two metres away from people outside your household – must still be followed
As you'll have likely noticed, Johnson's address did not cover a key aspect of the UK economy and, also, a large swathe of the population's choice of go-to exercise: the gyms. Perhaps, gyms, leisure centres and health clubs fall under the 'hospitality' umbrella. In which case, as Johnson explained, the UK government could reopen "at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places" in England, but this is likely to be after the re-opening of shops and schools.
When Will Gyms Reopen in the UK?
In short, it could be July 2020 at the earliest, as a recent report from the Guardian reveals that government officials are discussing wider proposals to open up grassroot sports and other fitness facilities across the country, following gyms and health centres working "really hard" to offer "sensible solutions" about reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
In other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, gyms and leisure centres have begun to re-open. A Bloomberg journalist recently shared the new social distancing and public safety measures that one gym was using to keep its users safe:
🏋🏃 Is this the new normal?— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) May 18, 2020
Hong Kong gyms have reopened with new #Covid_19 #SocialDistancing and safety measures like glass partitions. More @business: https://t.co/JQ1OsTVBau pic.twitter.com/5bC8ynkGUB
Of course, the re-opening of UK gyms is dependent on scientific advice, advances with anti-body tests, vaccines and how the population adheres to continuing social distancing measures. Currently, a six-month 'roadmap' from non-profit organisation UKactive is due to be published, which will provide much more clarity on when (and what) to expect from your local gym or health and fitness centre.
1Rebel, a London studio chain, has been working with UKactive on this plan and, according to the studio's co-founder James Balfour, it has been "enthusiastically received" by the government, leading to a possibility of re-openings "in early July".
"We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure our clubs will be a safe place upon reopening for our team and members," explained a spokesperson for Virgin Active, which has over 40 clubs in the UK. "[We] will be following government guidelines to finalise our reopening plans."
Conversely, an "inside source" working with the government told Sun Online: "Six months is a reasonable timeframe. Gyms won't be open any time soon. It won't be sooner than autumn."
According to The Telegraph, the PM has been 'urged' by fitness companies to reopen gyms to encourage the 'wonder drug' of exercise that can keep Britain healthy. The pressure follows research suggesting that obesity can increase the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 and doubles the danger of death from the pandemic disease.
"The evidence suggests that keeping the body fit and healthy could be one of the best things to do to prevent Covid-19, but I think gyms and leisure centres are quite far down on the pecking order of opening things up again, which seems pretty counter-intuitive," said Chief executive of David Lloyd Leisure (DLL), Glenn Earlam, who operates 100 health clubs across the UK.
"I believe leisure centres and gyms could be safely reopened quite easily, not everything would be the same at the start, there would have to be screens on reception desks, floor markings ensuring members stay two metres away and every piece of equipment would be cleaned after every use, with hand towels readily available. The numbers of people entering could also be limited, with ill people advised to stay at home."
PureGym CEO Humphrey Cobbold explained to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the gym and health club chain was working to upgrade hygiene standards and sanitation procedures, to "provide a safe environment for the future" for its clients.
Coronavirus Safety Measures in UK Gyms
The Gym Floor
Social media footage of gym-goers exercising between plexiglass barriers recently went viral and has helped people around the world understand what the future of fitness may look like, with users having to get their temperature checked and sign a health declaration before being admitted inside.
In Switzerland, gyms have also reopened. Gyms operated at about 70% capacity, using a model that's "very similar to the one which we are recommending to government," according to Huw Edwards, chief executive of UKactive. There will also be no towels allowed on the gym floors, with users also being encouraged to sanitise everything that was used during a session.
According to CNBS, gyms and fitness centres in Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona have been given the go-ahead from local government. Strategies, including a fractional operating capacity, (roughly 25 per cent), strict booking systems and temperature checks at the door, are also being used to keep customers safe.
So, can the UK expect to see plexiglass barriers between squat racks? "The individual operators will make decisions, but as it currently stands it [screens between machines] is not something that UKactive has been recommending," said Edwards.
"It will feel different, lots of visibility in terms of signage, management of flows of people coming in and out of the facilities, lots of sanitisation options for individuals."
For those who prefer to get a sweat on in a group setting, things will change drastically. Classes are likely to be shortened and breaks between them — to allow for deep cleaning — will increase. Overall, the class members will be significantly reduced and markings on the floor, not unlike the supermarket, will encourage strict social distancing.
Equinox, a popular group fitness class, recently published an Instagram post detailing what the future will look like for its clients. The post shared plans for Plexiglass barriers, in-app 'self-health' checks, zero-contact thermometers on arrival, 'touch-less' hand sanitiser stations and a strong recommendation for clients to wear gloves during workouts.
"You wouldn't have that level of proximity in studios as you would have seen prior to the Covid-19 crisis, the dynamic within the studio will change," said Edwards to BBC Sport.
Much like the gym floors and group fitness settings, swimmers will need to practise diligent social distancing once health clubs and gyms reopen. Currently, the framework from UKactive says that "maximum bather loads are based on one bather per three metres", meaning swimmer limits will be met far quicker and only one parent or carer supervising children during activities. Currently, there's no evidence that suggests Coronavirus (Covid-19) can be spread by use of swimming pools or hot tubs, so long as pools are properly chlorinated and cleaned, they should be allowed to open.
Will I Need to Wear a Mask and Gloves?
At the time of writing, the UKactive framework says "'Face masks will not be mandatory for staff, unless their role requires this." For many gym-goers, however, this will be a personal choice, so expect to see an influx of personal safety and hygiene equipment. A recent report from the Royal Society's Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) shared that "If correctly used on this basis, face masks, including homemade cloth masks, can contribute to reducing viral transmission."
But, what about wearing gloves to the gym? According to World Health Organisation (WHO) advice, regularly washing your hands is a safer precaution than wearing gloves, so UKactive reports that they will not be mandatory.
Changing Rooms and Showers
At the time of writing, UKactive has suggested to the government that gyms and health centres should use "extra signposting to maintain social distancing" to encourage users to keep high-touch areas — such as lockers, shower taps and door handles — clean by using spray and cloths. Some gyms, however, are planning to keep their showers and changing rooms locked for now.
Visiting The Gym
As non-essential workers and furloughed staff become accustomed to adjusted working hours, the changes that we've listed are likely to affect the 'peak' times for gyms and health clubs, with the usual 08:00 and 18:00 spikes dissipating to adjust to new working patterns.
Similarly, to encourage social distancing and high safety standards, the framework used in the UKactive report has suggested 'queue management' protocols and 2m spacing markings outside the entrance of the gym.
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