NI gym owners warn of future health issues if lockdown continues, as England prepares to reopen

Gym owners have spoken out about their ongoing frustration with the lack of movement from Stormont on reopening, after gyms in England were told they can open up again on April 12.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 7:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 8:04 am
Gyms in England can reopen on April 12, while Northern Ireland gyms will have to wait

Andy Chapman, who runs a Crossfit gym on the outskirts of Limavady, said he has “lost all faith” in the Northern Ireland government and is now “so demoralised” that he has stopped paying attention to the news for updates about possible reopening.

Vicky Neill, who runs Exhale PT in Belfast, said the inability of many to exercise could see the NHS hit by health problems in future.

In a Downing Street address on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced — as part of a range of measures to ease lockdown restrictions — that gyms and other types of indoor leisure will be allowed to reopen from April 12.

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Mr Chapman said: “I am so demoralised that I have stopped watching the news. Occasionally I’ll see things online, and I did see that Boris Johnson had talked about reopening.

“I’m demoralised with the government in Northern Ireland. The day that they said we would be guided by data and not dates, and then didn’t provide the data at that point I decided there was no point trying to follow it, because they can do whatever they want.

“What I do know is that I have people contacting me every day who want to see the gym open.

“There’s no reason why gyms can’t run safely. It seems that the goalposts are constantly changing.”

He continued: “I’ve lost all faith in the government. A lot of business owners run a business with passion. They don’t want money, they want to offer a service they feel makes a difference to society. It’s not about money.

“I don’t want government handouts. I want to make a difference to people’s lives so that they stay healthy. People come to me and say ‘you can get this, that and other’ about financial support, but it’s not about that. I don’t want the money. I’m passionate about the service that I provide, and I think that it’s a positive influence in people’s lives, both in a physical sense and in a mental health sense.”

He added: “Every day that the restrictions continue, it creates a bottleneck on the NHS.”

Vicky Neill, meanwhile, expressed a similar view.

“We’re in the business of keeping people well, keeping people healthy. The backlog this will have caused for the NHS is very large already.

“I’m no virologist but I do see on the ground that people’s health is already deteriorating. I have clients of my own who, because of these restrictions, are no longer healthy.”

She continued: “We already have the worst mental health in the UK. The services aren’t there. A healthy outlet like going to the gym should b a priority.”

Speaking about England’s move to reopen gyms on April 12, she said: “We are the forgotten ones. If we’re supposed to be part of the UK, why are we not in line? Why can our Executive not pull themselves together and make a decision?”