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UK fitness sector facing a fight to keep group exercise open in tier 3 areas

To the relief of the sector, the UK government confirmed this week that gyms, health clubs and leisure centres will be allowed to open under all three tiers of the new COVID-19 alert system when lockdown ends on the 2nd December 2020.

There was bad news for those depending on group exercise, however, as this will be banned in tier 3 areas, adding huge uncertainty for operators – especially boutiques.

The guidance on the tiers states that group exercise will be allowed in tiers 1 and 2, but in tier 3, "classes (including fitness and dance) should not go ahead, unless between people of the same household or bubble", a prospect, operators have called 'ridiculous'.

Group exercise has been a target for the government right through the pandemic. Prior to the second national lockdown, operators found themselves in battles with local authorities to keep group exercise classes going.

Under the previous three-tier system, the official guidance from the government (provided by the DCMS) was that exercise classes could take place in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas, providing the classes adhered to social distancing and that there was no mixing between the individual participants.

Yet, there was evidence that local authorities who found themselves in tier 3 were either unaware of or ignored this guidance when it came to group exercise – with many of them implementing stricter restrictions. These varied from group exercise being restricted via the "rule of six" to outright bans, even though this was not mandated nationally.

Now, it seems that the government has taken a much stricter stance on group workouts – but it is unclear why.

Liz Terry, editor of HCM said: "The industry will fight this irrational decision – group exercise is a vital part of people's fitness regimes and significantly improves both fitness levels and exercise adherence.

"We think the government has simply been scared off by the word 'group', and - rather than working to establish whether there is any risk – has taken the 'easy way' and banned it outright, without any good reason whatsoever.

"Group exercise has been running in a COVID-secure way right through the summer in areas in all tiers, operating within the strict framework agreed between ukactive and the government and there have been no known cases of community transmission.

"The industry has proven group exercise is safe and the government and local authorities need to familiarise themselves with the true nature of this valuable form of exercise and adjust their ruling to allow it to continue."

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