Are gyms an essential service?

Gyms and Leisure centres in Wales are set to open as soon as possible after lockdown ends, after ministers raised concerns over the population’s well-being.

Gyms, perhaps more than other industries, have found themselves battling against Covid-19 restrictions to stay open. Fears of superspreading, however, meant they were one of the last places to open after the last lockdown.

While the risk of spreading the virus certainly appears to be increased in settings where people exercise in close proximity, ministers now appear to be recognising the importance of gyms in people’s physical and mental wellbeing as well. This follows the government’s already announced plans – in collaboration with NHS England, ukactive, and Sport England – to offer up to 100,000 free gym sessions to those most in need.

All this begs the question – should gyms qualify as an essential service? Clearly large efforts must be made to ensure Covid compliance, but there is certainly a case for them opening earlier than they have previously.

A healthier population is a more resilient population – a sentiment echoed by countries with a lower obesity rate generally having a lower Covid death rate. Classifying a corner shop or off licence as an “essential service”, yet not gyms, seems a mistake if intermittent lockdowns are continue for any length of time into the future.

This is not to mention the impact a lack of exercise can have on people’s mental well-being. Those who are not lucky enough to be able to go for a run around woodland – or even a park – might find themselves couped up for weeks at a time with little to no physical exercise.

Hopefully our government in England follows suit, especially given the nation’s progress with its vaccination programme. Here’s hoping the latter half of the year brings with it the replenishment of participation the gym sector needs.

That’s why, when we reopen, [gyms] will be one of the first things which we will try and consider… gyms are very much in the early opening areas we would like to focus on.

By Mihir Shah on 22/02/2021