The 'Gym Rights' Movement Flouting the UK's Second Lockdown

Loopholes have allowed some arguably non-essential businesses to remain open. One key battlefield is The Gym.
Photo: DisobeyArt / Alamy Stock Photo

Lockdown 2.0 feels much less dramatic than its predecessor – a lacklustre sequel, the Meet the Fockers of pandemic measures. Partly due to this public fatigue, partly due to numerous loopholes within the new legislation, it would seem that lots of people simply aren’t taking the nationwide quarantine quite as seriously as last time.

According to a report in The New York Times, “In England on Thursday, the first hours of Lockdown 2.0, as local newspapers called it, looked very little like a lockdown at all.”


One of the issues is the ambiguity around what constitutes an “essential” business. For example, Ryman’s the stationers has declared itself “an essential service”, which seems like a bit of a reach, as does WHSmith choosing to remain open, given the fact most people can go a month without stocking up on novelty phone cases and M&M’s grab-bags.

Gyms are one of the key battlefields emerging, with some reluctant to comply with their closure. The owner of Ripped Gym in Harlow, a town north of London, has already been arrested for refusing to shut her gym. Police were alerted to this after she posted a defiant message on social media, vowing to “remain open against the law”.

There’s a lesson here for us all: the next time you want to break the law, maybe best not to post about it on Facebook.

The owner of Bedford’s Gainz Fitness and Strength, meanwhile, was given a prohibition notice for staying open, with three people fined £200 for attending. This burgeoning “gym rights” movement reached an absurdly feverish pitch on Wednesday, when protesters turned up to Parliament in an orange military-style tank emblazoned with the message “keep gyms open”. The tank appeared to be sponsored by “Grenade”, a company specialising in protein products.

But it hasn’t all been quite so dramatic: despite the fact gyms are obliged to close under the new legislation, a number of have managed to quietly stay open, and have so far avoided the attention of the authorities (that said, we’re only one day in). Over 500,000 people have signed a petition to keep gyms open over lockdown, arguing that – according to the government’s own data – they’re not significant sites of infection, and there are obvious physical and mental health benefits to keeping them open.

Lockdown round two is different in all sorts of ways. Before the first was imposed, people were already socialising less voluntarily, which hasn’t quite happened this week. Restaurants saw a sharp increase in reservations, pubs like Wetherspoons were selling off cheap pints, city centres were full of people determined to have one last night of fun, and airports and motorways were busy (what better time to retreat to your second home or jet off on holiday). We could well feel the impact of this a couple of weeks down the line.

Whatever you think about the lockdown measures, it’s clear that urgent action is needed: Wednesday saw 492 deaths recorded, which is the highest level since the middle of May. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The New York Times, “I’ve no doubt the lockdown will push cases further downward, but the issue is what is going to happen afterward.”

On Thursday, the UK government announced that it would be extending the furlough measures until March, which has left many questioning whether this new lockdown will last just as long. Boris Johnson has said, “This is not a repeat of the spring. Four weeks is enough for these measures to make a real impact," but there remain widespread scepticism that this will be the case – after all, the first lockdown was not originally intended to last as long as it did.