Return of outdoor sport in vain without dates for full leisure reopening

The Northern Ireland Executive must urgently provide dates for the reopening of indoor leisure services, social enterprise GLL has said.

As gyms reopen for indoor use in England, Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 restrictions have today been relaxed to allow up to 15 participants in outdoor sport.

With plans to reopen gyms in Scotland later this month and in Wales brought forward to May 3, GLL says the people of Northern Ireland are being left behind.

The largest social enterprise operating leisure facilities in the UK, it is urging The Executive to publish indicative dates and clear guidance for the resumption of indoor training.

With the vaccine rollout hitting new milestones every week, the threat to public health and wellbeing now exceeds that of Covid-19. Outdoor sport and fitness classes are a step in the right direction, but without the reopening of gyms and swimming pools many remain inactive and at a heightened risk of other physical and mental health conditions.

GLL reopened all 15 of its leisure centres across Belfast in line with Covid-19 safety protocols last year. Gyms right across the UK were proven to have low rates of transmission, with an overall rate of 1.7 cases per 100,000 visits when opened between July and December.

Gareth Kirk, Regional Director at GLL said: “Today’s relaxation comes one month after the Executive first announced plans to allow up to 15 participants in outdoor sport. While it may be a step in the right direction, it is unacceptable that citizens are without any indication of further easements after over a year of heavy restrictions on their ability to exercise.”

“People are on the brink and in desperate need of their usual coping mechanisms. Be it a weight session, treadmill run or swim with the family, they deserve the chance to blow off steam and look after their health. As those in England, Scotland and Wales prepare to do just that, staff and customers here in Northern Ireland are being let down.”

“By operating at reduced capacity, enforcing a one-way system and enhancing cleaning regimes, we operate safely within Covid-19 protocols. While we are geared up to rollout our services as soon as restrictions allow, there are fears it will be too little too late for some in our society. It is vital that leisure providers are given the green light to return to helping people maintain a consistent level of physical activity to guard against future health risks.”

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