GYM bosses across Gwent have welcomed the news their sector will be one of the first to open from the current lockdown, but concerns remain about the effect of their closure.
Ms Morgan also provided some hope for the health and fitness sector, adding that when it comes to reopening Wales from tier four restrictions, it would be “one of the first things that we will try and consider.”
Alex Bodin, co-owner of One Gym in Newport, said it was positive to hear the importance of the health and fitness sector being recognised by Ms Morgan, however there were still concerns about the effect of the closure on members’ physical and mental health.
“We are now in a territory where if we don’t open soon, we are not going to be around much longer,” he said. “To run essentially close to a year with no income, although the support is appreciated, it doesn’t come close to what we need to survive,” he said.
“It’s like someone chucked us a lifejacket in the middle of the ocean when you’ve got sharks swimming all around you.
“The pressure on people’s mental health and fitness is astronomical. With the weather as it is, people aren’t able to go out and exercise with it being cold and wet.
“[Monday] was the boost I needed personally to hear – those comments – because up until now, they hadn’t really mentioned our sector at all.
“It’s almost flipped on its head – we were one of the last to open last time, and one of the first to close.
“I just can’t wait to get people back in here. The frustration for us is not having a time. Even if they said we couldn’t open until September, at least we would have a date to work towards.
“We are looking at a March date but without them specifying it you don’t want to get your hopes up.
“Reading between the lines and off the back of [Monday], that’s the time we are looking at. We are hoping to be given an update in February and perhaps an opening in March.
“Up until [Monday] there had been no mention of our sector. That’s what doesn’t sit right. Especially as the one goal of our sector is to promote people’s health and wellness and, as a sector, we think we should be working with the government to help with that.”
Claire Pennington, manager of The Hub in Chepstow, said the importance of the health and fitness sector to people’s physical and mental health had been “ignored” by governments throughout the pandemic, when they should instead be working with the sector.
“It is positive news to hear that Ms Morgan recognises the importance of health and fitness,” she said. “The closure of gyms has had a detrimental impact on people’s lifestyles in more ways than one.
“The Welsh Government should certainly be focusing on reopening the health and fitness sector as a priority.
“Clarity on messaging from Mark Drakeford has been poor over the past year, so a clear and organised timeframe for allowing people to use gyms again would be beneficial to all. People have struggled with the uncertainty of this lockdown.
“Gyms and leisure are vital to the physical and mental health of society, in turn alleviating the pressure on the NHS. Unfortunately, government ministers have ignored the importance of this sector in the pandemic. It is time they focused on new schemes encouraging health in the fight against Covid.”
Angharad Collins, chief executive of Torfaen Leisure Trust, said: “The comments made regarding the reopening of gyms and leisure centres are of no shock to us.
“We have worked closely with Welsh Government as a sector throughout the pandemic and have been able to evidence how safe we are as facilities.
“It is pleasing and a great relief to hear how important the minister believes our facilities to be and as soon as we are given the green light to reopen, we will do so safely, as we have done before following strict Covid measures to ensure that we continue to keep our customers and staff safe.
“We know the impact that our facilities have on people’s health and wellbeing and will continue to work with Welsh Government on timelines for reopening in the coming weeks and months.”
A spokeswoman for Nuffield Health Cwmbran Fitness & Wellbeing Gym, said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our members and staff at our Fitness and Wellbeing Centres is of paramount importance to us.
“We know that gym closures have significantly impacted people’s physical and mental health, especially during the latest lockdown through the winter months.
“Without doubt gyms and leisure centres have an increasingly important role to play in maintaining the health of the nation.
“We eagerly await the next government update and once permitted to do so we intend to re-open and welcome our members back as soon as possible.”