Pressure is mounting on both Scottish and UK ministers to prioritise gyms reopening much earlier after the latest Covid lockdown than was allowed last year.
Bosses of local public facilities and big national chains have weighed in, as more than 150,000 people have signed a petition calling for the UK Government to subsidise membership fees, in a similar manner to the discounted meals it offered during August’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
The petition was started by Liz Terry, the chief executive of health and fitness firm Leisure Media.
She wrote: “The government opened pubs before gyms and spent £500 million on the Eat Out To Help Out scheme which encouraged unhealthy behaviour in a health crisis.
“The virus is more serious for people who are overweight and unfit.
“The focus this time must be on health and wellbeing and getting people active.”
People looking to exercise had to wait until September for gyms, swimming pools, leisure centres and health clubs to reopen last year – months after pubs, cafes and restaurant had been allowed to welcome customers back.
Industry’s heavy muscle: Gyms among lowest transmission sites after last lockdown
Large operators, such as Pure Gym and Bannatyne’s, have piled the pressure on ministers for their businesses to be at the front of the queue this time.
PureGym currently runs 295 gyms across the country, including four in Aberdeen and has designs on a first location in Inverness.
A statement from the firm said: “We all know that exercise plays an essential role in our physical and mental wellbeing, and we believe gyms should reopen as soon as lockdown measures start to ease, for three reasons.
“Exercise improves our immune system and can help protect against the symptoms of Covid, so gyms should be central to our strategy to rebuild the health of our nation.
“Over 10 million people across the UK rely on gyms for their physical and mental wellbeing, especially when exercising outdoors is not feasible for everyone.
“Gyms were proven to be safe during 2020, with among the lowest Covid transmission rates of any industry.”
Meanwhile Duncan Bannatyne has highlighted that healthier people have better outcomes if they do contract the virus.
He added that exercise was a “proven antidote” to mental health problems increasing by the pandemic and that it could play a role in rehabilitation.
The Scots health club mogul said: “There are important health reasons why health clubs and gyms, which are very safe environments with strict procedures in place to safeguard members and staff, should be included in the early phase of reopening.
“There are also economic and business reasons. As a company we would rather be offering our members the opportunity to improve their physical and mental wellbeing than being reliant on taxpayer’s money to support a closed business.
“I strongly urge Mr Johnson and Ms Sturgeon to take note of the very valid points I have raised when considering the gradual reopening of their respective countries over the coming weeks.”
North-east and Highland leisure staff ‘ready’ for reopening
Charity High Life Highland, which runs northern council leisure facilities, said surveys had shown customers showed 95% confidence in returning to its centres – and that staff were ready.
A spokesman said: “The charity’s first and foremost priority has always been and remains the safety of its customers and staff during the pandemic, as well as supporting colleagues in NHS Highland and The Highland Council in mitigating the spread of the virus.
“As a charity, High Life Highland is keen to see our leisure facilities reopen as soon as possible in order to support the physical and mental health and wellbeing of residents across local communities, the impact of which should not be underestimated as High Life Highland plays its role in providing safe spaces for customers to enjoy their exercise in the coming months ahead.”
Sport Aberdeen managing director, Alistair Robertson, said fitness venues needed to be reopened “at the earliest possible stage”.
“Overwhelming research has highlighted the benefits of exercise in fighting the virus and it is widely acknowledged that being physically active is absolutely vital in contributing positively to both physical and mental wellbeing, while strengthening the immune system,” he said.
“Furthermore, following the reopening of services within the health and wellbeing sector in 2020, there was a very low prevalence of Covid-19 due to the stringent hygiene and safety measures that were put in place.”
“We are ready and eager to play our part in Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis by supporting our community’s health and wellbeing, along with helping to reduce escalating costs to the NHS and other services.”
Sturgeon: Government “perhaps” could have gyms reopen earlier after the current lockdown
The First Minister recently told Holyrood it was a “reasonable question” to ask about a possible reordering of the priority list for businesses reopening.
“Perhaps we did not always make the right choices when it came to prioritising things last year.
“That is not to say that it is not perfectly legitimate for pubs and restaurants and other parts of the economy to want to open, because it absolutely is, and I want to see them back to normal as quickly as possible.
“However, as we continue down this difficult path and as headroom opens up, we have to be very clear what our priorities are.
“I have been very clear that the first priority for the government is getting children back to education; I think that that has widespread support across the country.
“After we have done that, what is the order of priority? If we have limited headroom, then other facilities that help with the health and wellbeing of the population absolutely have to be there in our thinking.
“It will not be an easy balancing act this time round, any more than it was last time round.
“However, we have the experience of last time and we know what we think that we perhaps did right and what we wish that we had perhaps done differently and we will be seeking to apply that.”