Indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres can reopen this month, government announces

Culture secretary sets date and says mitigating measures will be put in place to stop virus spread

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 09 July 2020 18:10 BST
Oliver Dowden said that face coverings will not be required in indoor gyms
Oliver Dowden said that face coverings will not be required in indoor gyms

Indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres will be able to reopen from later this month, the government has announced.

Outdoor swimming pools in England will start to reopen from this Saturday, while indoor pools, gyms and other sports facilities will have coronavirus restrictions lifted on 25 July.

The news follows an announcement that outdoor theatre, opera, music and dance events will also be permitted with limited and socially distanced audiences in England from 11 July.

Unveiling the measures at a press conference on Thursday, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, used a new government slogan that urges the public to “work out to help out”. It follows an earlier call for people to “eat out to help out”, referring to restaurant meals.

Mr Dowden told reporters at the Downing Street press conference: “I’m really urging people to get out there and to play their part: buy the tickets for outdoor plays and musical recitals; get to your local gallery and support your local businesses.

“Our fight began with a collective effort and I really hope it will end with one. At the beginning we all stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives; now the British public has a new part to play. It’s time to eat out to help out, to enjoy the arts to help out, and to work out to help out.

“It’s over to all of you to help the country recover safely.”

The announcement on outdoor performances gives the green light for venues such as Glyndebourne in East Sussex, and Cornwall’s Minack Theatre, to reopen this summer – as well as drive-in dates for the West End musical Six.

A change in planning rules will also mean theatres, concert halls and live music venues will be protected from demolition or change of use by developers, preventing those that have been made temporarily vacant during lockdown disappearing altogether and giving extra security as they start to reopen.

All tickets must be purchased online and venues are encouraged to move towards e-ticketing to help with track-and-trace operations in case of an outbreak at a performance.

Mr Dowden said: “Our culture, heritage and arts are too precious to lose. That’s why we’re protecting venues like theatres from redevelopment if they fall on hard times.”

Despite government efforts to get people out of their homes, however, most Britons say they won’t be returning to restaurants any time soon, according to new polling. One survey by YouGov found that just 8 per cent of people said they will “definitely” use the meal discount scheme unveiled by the chancellor on Wednesday, with 24 per cent saying they probably will. This compares with 52 per cent saying they definitely will not or probably will not.

Mr Dowden said at the press conference that face coverings will not be required in gyms but that other “mitigating measures”, such as regular cleaning, will be put in place.

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, announcing the new lifting of restrictions

He said the government’s approach to face coverings was “context specific” and said it had been endorsed by scientific advisers as a ”proportionate approach whereby wearing masks is one way of mitigating risks, but it sits alongside a whole suite of other things”, including washing hands and social distancing.

Asked whether restrictions would make reopening facilities “less fun”, he replied: ”The judgement we’ve taken with [pubs] and swimming pools and elsewhere is it is better to reopen with those restrictions than not reopen at all.

“Of course it is going to take a while for people’s confidence to build. It is rarely the case that you pull up the shutter and everyone comes rushing in.

“But equally the experience in the UK and elsewhere is that over time people have gained confidence and have started to engage more.”

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