Boris Johnson has rejected calls to keep gyms, tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools open during England’s pending four-week national lockdown.
Under the new restrictions – which will be voted on in Parliament on Wednesday and are expected to come into force at 00:01 GMT on Thursday 5th November – the prime minister has ordered indoor and outdoor sports and leisure facilities to close for the four week duration.
A number of sporting bodies have thus sought to challenge the government’s shutdown of these facilities.
But in an address to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Mr Johnson offered them little hope of success and instead suggested that unpicking parts of the lockdown would mean “the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised”.
When questioned on the matter by a number of MPs, Mr Johnson insisted that it is “difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package”.
James Sunderland – Conservative MP for Bracknell – told the Prime Minister he had been contacted by many constituents concerned about the closure of gyms, golf clubs and tennis clubs and went on to ask: “Given the proven benefits of exercise and the lack of any clear evidence that these activities have contributed to an increase in the R rate, might the prime minister be willing to reconsider the current guidance within the next four weeks?,”
But Mr Johnson replied: “Once you unpick at one thing, alas, the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised.
He continued: “That is why I want everybody to work together for the next four weeks, as I say, to get the R under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.”
Another Tory MP, Stephen Metcalfe, asked the Prime Minister to review the rules around socially distanced outdoor sports such as golf and tennis, and Labour MP Kevan Jones – who highlighted the “valiant efforts” of golf clubs and gyms to ensure they are COVID-safe – urged Mr Johnson to publish the scientific data behind the decision to close such sports facilities.
When pressed further by Conservative MP Peter Aldous who asked the Prime Minister to rethink the rules on activities “that can take place in a socially distanced and responsible way”, such as outdoor swimming, Mr Johnson said the government would “look at any exceptions that we can sensibly make”,
But then added: “It is difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package.”
The resisting of these calls came after Mr Johnson defended the decision to introduce the regional three tier system in October following a growing number of senior Conservative backbenchers signalling their opposition to the measures due to come into effect on Thursday, and despite Labour stating that his failure to act sooner will have cost lives and caused further damage to the economy.
Setting out why the lockdown is now needed, Mr Johnson said to MPs: “At the end of four weeks, on Wednesday 2nd December, we will seek to ease restrictions, going back into the tiered system on a local and regional basis according to the latest data and trends.”
He continued: “Models of our scientists suggest that unless we act now, we could see deaths over the winter that are twice as bad or more compared with the first wave.”
“Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level.”
For the latest information, guidance and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK, please do refer to official sources at gov.uk/coronavirus.