- in Science
It’s been more than four months since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown forced the closure of Scotland’s indoor gyms.
Hotels, restaurants and pubs have welcomed customers back through their doors but the health and fitness industry is still waiting for a reopening date.
It has led to frustration in the industry concerned that ministers appear to be prioritising alcohol-based entertainment over the nation’s long-term health and wellbeing.
The Scottish government says gyms must remain closed as they involve prolonged social contact which increases the chance of infection spreading.
As leisure facilities reopen in England, gym owners have told BBC Scotland they need urgent clarity.
Science ‘We are a team that want to be reunited’
Before lockdown Megan Bennington spent six days a week coaching more than 200 youngsters at her gymnastics club in Dumfries and Galloway.
The disruption to her routine has had an effect on her own mental well-being but she is concerned it may also be affecting her young gymnasts.
“It worries me to think some children might not have the confidence to come back to a sport they love,” she said.
The Castle Douglas-based gym is prepared for reopening but a reduced timetable to allow for physical distancing means Megan will be unlikely to be able to pay herself a wage.
“However it would just be great to get back and start coaching the children and building their confidence again,” she added.
The gymnastics coach thinks Nicola Sturgeon has done a “fantastic job” overall but she said she had become increasingly frustrated by the lifting of lockdown.
“The rules just don’t seem to make sense anymore,” she said.
“My main grievance is that the pubs are open. It seems utterly bizarre to me that alcohol and all the detrimental elements associated with it, have been given priority over the health and fitness industry.
“Gymnastics is a challenging sport but it’s mental and physical benefits are endless. Indoor sport needs to be given the go ahead soon otherwise some communities are going to be left without vital hubs.
“My gym is more then just a place where children exercise, we are a team who want to be reunited!”
Science ‘The business side of things is frightening’
Melanie Soares and her husband Peter run a fitness and training facility in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire.
With 15 employees, they offer tailored six-week courses in fitness, nutrition, and wellbeing to more than 400 local residents – from children and teenagers to parents and pensioners.
They are desperate to reopen and were dismayed on Wednesday when the first minister suggested it might be delayed to ensure children can return to school full-time in August.
As parents of two children, they are keen to see schools reopen. And with an elderly mother who is shielding, Melanie says she understands the public health risks.
However, they are on the edge of a financial cliff. They have used all the government help they can, cut their expenditure, and are living off savings.
They were expecting to reopen at the beginning of August and now their money is running out.
“The business side of things is frightening,” said Melanie. “I don’t know how to keep my business afloat without a [reopening] date or any further income.”
With obesity and mental health issues major problems in Scotland, she feels the government has got its priorities wrong.
“Our sector improves physical and mental health fitness which is the most important sector amidst a public health pandemic and we feel increasingly worried that other businesses that pose bigger risks remain open,” she said.
Science ‘Why can’t we open when pubs and restaurants can?’
Since closing their doors on 16 March – a week before lockdown – Reform Studios in the Newtown area of Edinburgh has received only a £10,000 grant.
Neal McGaffin, the managing director of the Pilates studio, said that barely covered rent and the cost of implementing strict new Covid measures.
He said their customers were “very supportive” but added: “There is a huge sense of frustration from many of them, with no clear explanation as to why premises like ourselves can’t open when pubs and restaurants can.”
In a direct appeal to the first minister, he said: “Please either let us open our doors, or publish the science that explains why Scotland’s fitness studios pose a greater risk than those reopening safely across the globe.
“You’ve spoken about the importance of mental health but won’t let people access their local fitness studios while they can visit the pub as often as they like.”
Science ‘Allow people back into gyms as soon as possible’
PureGym opened its eight facilities in Northern Ireland more than two weeks ago, customers will return to its 230 gyms in England this weekend – but its 24 Scottish bases will remain closed.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the government in both Scotland and Wales have yet to set a date for when gyms can re-open,” the company said in a statement.
It said their gyms in Switzerland, Denmark and Poland have been open for many weeks, with more than two million customers – without any transmission incidents.
They have consulted medical experts in drawing up new Covid protocols and point out that their existing electronic entry system means they have the contact details they need to support the Track and Protect system.
“The evidence that our sector provides truly vital support to mental and physical well-being of populations is overwhelming,” they said.
“We call on the Scottish government to re-examine the evidence, engage with us and our industry bodies, and allow people back into gyms as soon as possible.”
Science What do the scientists say?
Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, explained that people working out involves increased respiratory effort and aerosol production – which can spread coronavirus.
“Clearly large gyms where equipment can be widely spaced apart and windows and doors can be left ajar (without relying on air conditioning) will be less risky than smaller premises,” she said.
“But it would be difficult for government to allow some gyms to open and not others.”
Prof Bauld added: “I absolutely understand that allowing indoor pubs to reopen (which are also risky environments) but keeping gyms closed seems unfair.
“The key to getting gyms open will be a continued decline in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Scotland.
“I’m optimistic that we are on the right path to get these premises up and running again during the month of August.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Exercise is good for physical and mental health and we know that many people have been missing going to the gym.
“We don’t want these restrictions to be in place a minute longer than we judge to be necessary but, for now, indoor gyms must remain closed as they involve prolonged close social contact, which increases the chance of infection spreading.
“We’d like to thank gym owners and their members for their patience at this challenging time.”