COVID-19: Fitness industry calls for change to ‘baffling and unfair’ rules

Government guidance states indoor group exercise is banned in Tier 3 areas, meaning fitness studios must close.

The government is under pressure to change “baffling and unfair” coronavirus guidelines that have forced hundreds of fitness studios to close.

Official guidelines specifies that indoor community exercise in Tier 3 areas is forbidden, which means that fitness studios specialized in spinning and yoga must be closed.

But gyms can remain open because individual exercise – or exercise in single households and support bubbles – is still permitted.

This move is expected to have an impact on 45,000 jobs across the country, according to UK Active, the fitness industry’s leading body.

Sinead Chandiram, a freelance senior fitness instructor, told Sky News how challenging these closures have been.

“I think I’m quite a mentally strong person and I’ve just struggled so much,” she said.

“It’s been really tough, to lose your livelihood, to lose your job, your purpose, I mean how do you deal with that?”

She added: “Gyms being open and our studios having to close, that’s hard to deal with.

“You just never expect your profession to be taken away from you, and especially as unfairly as it seems on this third time of us closing.”

Ms Chandiram said “it’s a scary place to be”, entering the new year with no income and no end in sight.

UK Active said women in particular rely on indoor exercise classes, and raised concerns about the considerable impact these closures will have on physical activity during winter.

Clare Gribble, finance director at Psycle London, told Sky News that studios “have a really important part to play” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that people are most able to commit to a healthy lifestyle and be really consistent when they find something they love to do,” she said.

“In taking that away from people, I think we risk losing that consistency and being unable to support people’s mental and physical health at this really important time.”

Dario Carabba, owner of The Fort Gym, told Sky News “there is no great logic in differentiating” between his studio which has had to close while his gym remains open.

“We’ve got supermarkets, retail, hospitality, universities and schools, all carry a far greater risk than gyms all the evidence shows, and yet the messaging has not supported that.”

UK Active told Sky News that these restrictions are “baffling and unfair”.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active said: “We continue to work alongside our sector partners to understand the rationale for the ban on indoor group activities and exercise classes in Tier 3, and to see it reviewed and changed.

“Indoor group exercise classes do not compromise any element of the government’s safety guidelines, by operating at reduced capacity, with adapted booking and queuing systems to maintain social distancing, and using stringent ventilation and sanitisation processes.

“January is a vital time for our sector, and we urge the government to provide tailored financial and regulatory support for its recovery, including a combination of business rate relief, VAT exemptions, and incentives that not only help to rebuild, but also encourage more people back into physical activity.”

A petition to the government to allow fitness studios to reopen in Tier 3 areas has reached more than 22,000 signatures.

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The rationale is clear on this – this is all about the higher transmission risk of coronavirus when people are within close proximity in indoor settings, with restrictions depending on the alert level that applies to your local area.

“That’s why in Tier 1, group activities such as training sessions and exercise classes can take place in larger numbers, provided that people are in separate groups (up to six people) which do not mix.

“In Tier 2 areas, people can take part in group activity like exercise classes as long as there is no mixing between households. People can play certain sports which do not involve close proximity or physical contact against one person from another household, such as a singles tennis match or badminton match.

“In Tier 3 areas, indoor sport will be restricted to within your household only, and there should be no group activity such as exercise classes.”

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