Gyms and pools to open this month in England | Life and style

Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres will open later this month in England with social distancing measures after growing unhappiness from the health and fitness sector that pub and restaurant reopening had been prioritised.

Outdoor pools can reopen from 11 July and indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities may reopen from 25 July with new guidance on spacing out and cleaning equipment, 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.

The move comes as Boris Johnson is said to have a renewed focus on his personal fitness and tackling the nation’s obesity levels after he was hospitalised with coronavirus.

The culture, media and sport secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “The reopening of gyms is the news millions across the country have been waiting for with many people desperate to jump on a spinning bike or dive into a pool.

“Our comprehensive guidance will ensure gyms, pools and leisure centres have the support they need to reopen safely for their customers and staff.

“Helping people return to gyms safely will also help the nation get match-fit to defeat this virus.”

After significant lobbying from the arts sector, the government has also agreed to allow outdoor performances with social distancing to resume from 11 July. This will allow for theatre, opera, dance and music outside so long as the audience numbers are limited.

Outdoor opera at Glyndebourne, Sussex, and plays at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre, are examples of what can now take place.

Small pilots of performances indoors with socially distanced audiences will also take place and carefully monitored by the government and arts sector to ensure it is safe.

The fitness sector had expressed disappointment after it was left out of the loosening of restrictions which came into effect last weekend, which allowed pubs, restaurants and bars to reopen if they adhered to public health guidelines.

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 the facility at any one time, which may require a booking system.

Among the other measures suggested are reduced class sizes; improving cleaning and providing hand sanitiser throughout venues; ensuring adequate ventilation; and temporary floor markings for exercise or dance studios.

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.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “This guidance sets out how community sport can be done safely, so many more sports can get going again.

“Sports governing bodies are now putting stringent measures in place so that the millions of people that play, officiate and volunteer can keep safe while enjoying all the benefits that grassroots sport brings.”

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 needs to be touched by multiple players, such as basketball, cricket and football, need to include in their action plans how they will reduce the risk of this transmitting the virus – for example by cleaning when it goes out of play.

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