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Welsh government considering splitting gyms into categories based on 'risk' and phasing reopening of larger and smaller sites

Welsh Government accused of ignoring science
Government prioritises hairdressers and barbers, while offering no clarity on possible reopening of health clubs
First Minister Drakeford on a collision course with physical activity sector for second time in three weeks
ukactive CEO Huw Edwards says Drakeford's decisions "not driven by scientific advice"
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ukactive will continue to work with the Welsh Government and its Welsh stakeholder partners to explore all available options to ensure the swift reopening of our facilities
– Huw Edwards

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, says the Welsh government is considering breaking the gym sector down into different categories, based on 'risk', and reopening some gyms and health clubs before others.

"I've been reading evidence recently that says we shouldn't treat all gyms the same," he said. "Up until now that is what we have done, we have treated gyms as one class and have kept either all of them closed or all of them open.

"The evidence I have been reading says that gyms that are well ventilated, have large premises and are modern have risks which are at the modest end of the spectrum.

"If they are carefully run the risks can be mitigated.

"However, gyms that are small, a bit old-fashioned, have not much ventilation and lots of people close by one another have risks that are likely to be significantly greater.

"I want to use the weeks ahead to talk with our environmental health officers and the sector to work out if we can have a more differentiated approach to reopening gyms rather than it being all or nothing."

Drakeford has been accused of ignoring scientific advice, after the Welsh government failed to offer any details on when fitness facilities might be able to reopen.

On Friday, he announced, somewhat surprisingly, that hairdressers and barbers would be prioritised for reopening and could welcome back customers from today (Monday 15 March) and that this would be followed, nearly a month later on 12 April, by the reopening of the retail sector – including all close contact services.

However, his statement did not include any mention of health clubs or leisure centres.

He was challenged over this oversight in an interview with WalesOnline.

When asked whether it was "fair to assume that gyms won't even be considered for reopening until April 12" – Drakeford said: "I think that is pretty accurate.

"Leisure centres and gyms will be on the list of things that we are thinking about for the second half of April," he said.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said the latest update from the First Minister provided "little clarity" – and that, damningly, the continued delays to reopening were "not driven by scientific advice".

“On 3 March, the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) met with representatives from ukactive, the sector and the ukactive Scientific Advisory Group,” he said.

"At this meeting, the TAC confirmed there was no new evidence to substantiate the claims made by the First Minister on 19 February that gyms, pools, and leisure centres pose a greater risk coming out of this latest lockdown, compared to other sectors.

“Furthermore, comments from the First Minister on 12 March have sought to differentiate between types of facilities,” said Edwards.

“However, the sector’s framework – co-authored with the Government and scientific experts – sets the benchmark for reopening and all facilities must achieve these standards, regardless of size or age.

“Given the misrepresentation previously provided, and the excellent safety record the sector has, we have urged the Welsh Government to address this misrepresentation, and provide a clear and timely pathway for the reopening of these essential facilities.

"Given comments by the First Minister, this has not happened, much to the growing anger and frustration of the sector in Wales.

“The treatment of gyms, pools, and leisure centres over the past few weeks has been unacceptable, and ukactive will continue to work with the Welsh Government and its Welsh stakeholder partners to explore all available options to ensure the swift reopening of our facilities,” concluded Edwards.

This is the second time in the past few weeks that the First Minister has angered the sector.

On 19 February,

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Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, says the Welsh government is considering breaking the gym sector down into different categories, based on 'risk', and reopening some gyms and health clubs before others.
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