Hundreds of angry gym owners and members marched on the Senedd this morning, protesting for their sector to become classified as essential.
An estimated 300 gathered at City Hall in Cardiff before heading down St Mary’s Street, through Butetown and to Cardiff Bay.
Among the signs on display, some read: “When did our health become non-essential?”
Others said: “Together we’ll shape a healthier community”.
For months, gym owners have vented their frustrations over being forced to remain shut whilst other sectors that do not necessarily have a positive impact on mental and physical health re-open.
Earlier this week, First Minister Mark Drakeford brought forward the reopening of gyms from May 10 to May 3.
But it did little to appease Welsh Health Matters, a group of Welsh gym owners, whose protest was sparked by the shocking scenes of hundreds breaking lockdown rules by gathering, largely unpunished, on the steps of the Senedd a week ago.
Their protest was not aimed at the reopening date, though that remains a source of huge frustration, but more at their businesses being classified as non-essential.
The goal of Welsh Health Matters is for gyms and leisure facilities to be classified as essential due to the positive impact they have on the nation’s wider health – both physical and mental.
This would mean that, if future lockdowns are required in Wales, gyms would not be forced to close for such prolonged periods of time.
“What we’re asking for, as independent gym owners, is for them to reclassify our businesses as essential,” Alex Bodin, director of One Gym in Newport told Gist Vile.
“I don’t think they’ll change the date [of when gyms can re-open]. But if there are subsequent lockdowns, we come in a different category.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. I feel like they’ve dangled the carrot in front of us throughout the pandemic. The reality is the scientific evidence he [First Minister Mark Drakeford] keeps quoting just isn’t there.”
“We’re pushing the message that the health of the Welsh public is at an all-time low, obesity levels are at an all-time high.
“People in our industry, who are experts in working day-in, day-out to better people’s health, aren’t being prioritised.
“It’s hard for us to see things that are actually detrimental to health being prioritised ahead of us: pubs, drinking, takeaways have been open throughout this pandemic when all the figures suggest that being overweight and unhealthy leads to an increased likelihood of becoming ill with Covid.
“We’re just asking to be treated fairly. The health and well-being of the Welsh nation is on the line here.”
The Welsh Government is also facing legal action, with gym owners poised to launch Judicial Review proceedings into its handling of the sector throughout the pandemic.
Mr Drakeford has been accused of misrepresenting the Covid-related risks associated with fitness facilities and sparked anger in February when he claimed they were “particularly vulnerable” to the the new Kent variant of the virus. The First Minister said his view was based on new evidence from the Welsh government’s Technical Advisory Cell, but this is disputed by the sector.
Ukactive, the body that has been representing gyms in the discussions with the Welsh Government throughout the pandemic, have since claimed that Mr Drakeford’s advisers have admitted there is no evidence to back up his statement.
Public Health Wales have also published a study which suggests visiting gyms and leisure centres did not increase the risk of infection.
There are also fears that, with gyms in England opening on April 12, Welsh businesses close to the border will lose members to gyms that are allowed to open a matter of miles away.
Owners are also sceptical of the motives behind the decision to bring the reopening date forward to May 3, with the Senedd Elections due to take place on May 6.
The Welsh Government has maintained a cautious approach to the easing of lockdown measures due to the highly-infectious Kent variant taking hold here.
However gym owners would argue that their businesses are no more at risk than others that are either already open or will be opening before them.