The government is to allow gyms in England to start reopening this month, it is understood, following intense lobbying from the fitness sector and MPs over why they had to remain closed when restaurants and bars could admit customers.
It is expected that the culture, media and sport secretary, Oliver Dowden, will set out plans formally later on Thursday, with the expectation of reopening soon, if gyms are able to maintain social distancing and other coronavirus hygiene measures.
Dowden is to host a Downing Street press conference at 5pm, No 10 said on Thursday. The formerly-daily coronavirus briefings are now only held when a minister has a particular update to announce.
Dowden is expected to confirm a date for the reopening of gyms, which government sources suggested would be before the end of July.
The culture secretary is also expected to announce the date when some other sectors left out of the 4 July easements, such as nail bars, can open their doors. There was, however, no immediate clarity on the position for swimming pools, which have also not yet been allowed to reopen.
Asked by the Conservative MP Jason McCartney at departmental questions on Thursday morning about the guidance for gyms, Dowden said news would come soon.
Gyms had “engaged very constructively” with the issue of how they could reopen safely, Dowden said, adding: “I hope to be able to make an announcement imminently in relation to that. And as I have said previously, the aim has always been to get gyms back by mid-July.”
The fitness sector 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 Boris 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.
Gyms in Northern Ireland are set to become the first in the UK to reopen following lockdown. The Stormont executive has directed that leisure centres and gyms may reopen from Friday.
Better Leisure, which operates 15 municipal leisure facilities on behalf of Belfast city council, will have a gradual reopening over the coming days. This follows extensive preparation work to transform facilities to allow for social distancing.