Protesters drive orange TANK on Parliament Square to demand gyms stay open during second lockdown


Protesters led by England rugby star James Haskell have driven an orange tank on Parliament Square to demand gyms stay open during lockdown. 

The former international, 35, was stopped by police as he joined sports nutrition brand Grenade in demonstrating against gyms and leisure centres being classified as ‘non-essential’ under the rules, which take effect from midnight on Thursday. 

It comes as a number of gyms across England say they ‘refuse to obey the tyranny’ and will defy the new measures, despite facing a hefty fine of up to £10,000. 

Data for the end of October shows gyms were the sixth most common place for Test and Trace contact tracing exercises to be prompted, falling below supermarkets, pubs and restaurants and schools. 

There were a reported 22million visits to gyms after they reopened in July, with 78 Covid-19 cases being tracked to these locations. 

Pedestrians look on as England rugby star James Haskell is seen riding on top of the orange tank around central London in protest of gyms closing during the second Covid-19 lockdown

Police are seen pulling over Haskell as he rides on top of the tank in Parliament Square. The publicity student was in protest of gyms and leisure centres being deemed 'non-essential'

Police are seen pulling over Haskell as he rides on top of the tank in Parliament Square. The publicity student was in protest of gyms and leisure centres being deemed ‘non-essential’

Grenade argues gyms must stay open as exercise can be vital in combating anxiety and stress.

Alan Barratt, CEO and co-founder of the brand, said: ‘Gyms and leisure centres aren’t just “another sector”. After working in them for most of my life I’ve seen how they positively impact people’s lives – and not just physically.

‘They’re directly supporting the nation’s mental wellbeing during one of the most worrying times in recent history.

‘With exercise helping to tackle widespread anxiety and stress, as well as offering a huge amount of preventative health benefits, the sector is hugely essential and we urge the government to review its current stance.’

Haskell believes it is even more important to keep gyms open during the second lockdown, as people cannot be expected to solely exercise outside during cold winter months.

The 35-year-old former forward added: ‘It’s imperative that people can continue to exercise regularly as the nights draw in and the weather worsens.

‘It simply isn’t realistic to believe the public will regularly exercise outside during the winter months, causing untold damage to the nation’s health.

‘Gyms and leisure centres are vital to keep the nation active and healthy.’

Haskell and Paul Olima let off a plume of bright orange smoke as they stand on top of the tank in front of Parliament. The new lockdown measures come into force at midnight on Thursday

Haskell and Paul Olima let off a plume of bright orange smoke as they stand on top of the tank in front of Parliament. The new lockdown measures come into force at midnight on Thursday

The rugby star rides on top of the tank alongside other traffic in London today. Grenade argues gyms must stay open as exercise can be vital in combating anxiety and stress

The rugby star rides on top of the tank alongside other traffic in London today. Grenade argues gyms must stay open as exercise can be vital in combating anxiety and stress

Grenade also published an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, urging the public to rally against the government and demand the government re-consider the non-essential label, using the hashtag #KeepGymsOpen.

They urged concerned citizens to sign a petition to prevent gyms from closing due to spikes in Covid cases, which has now been signed by more than half a million people and is due to be debated in Parliament.

A gym in Wigan, Greater Manchester, has vowed to remain open and claimed they were ‘cleaner and safer’ than any supermarket.

Majestic Gym in Pemberton said it would open as usual on Thursday and it urged other businesses to ‘refuse to obey the tyranny.’

In a Facebook post, the gym said: ‘Seen the latest news from the Prime Minister and I’m proud to announce that Majestic Gym will stay open and NOT close as part of a national lockdown.

‘Please feel free to report this post to the police, the council, the prime minister himself.

Majestic Gym (pictured above) in Wigan, Greater Manchester, has vowed to remain open during the second lockdown and claimed they were 'cleaner and safer' than any supermarket

Majestic Gym (pictured above) in Wigan, Greater Manchester, has vowed to remain open during the second lockdown and claimed they were ‘cleaner and safer’ than any supermarket

In a Facebook post, the gym said: 'We temperature test every single person on entry and side we reopened in July, we've had 3,500 visits and nobody has failed a temperature test'

In a Facebook post, the gym said: ‘We temperature test every single person on entry and side we reopened in July, we’ve had 3,500 visits and nobody has failed a temperature test’

‘Majestic Gym is cleaner and safer than any supermarket, fast food outlet or anywhere else that is allowed to stay open.

‘We temperature test every single person on entry and side we reopened in July, we’ve had 3,500 visits and nobody has failed a temperature test. 

‘The more businesses that refuse to obey the tyranny, clog the legal system and save our liberties.’

People will be allowed to exercise outdoors during the four-week lockdown, which may extend for longer, but some fear the cold weather will make it less feasible for people to do so. 

Meanwhile, AStar Muscle and Fitness in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, posted a video on social media stating gyms were ‘part of the solution, not the problem’.

They announced they would remain open in order to support their members’ mental and physical well being.

Joe Davies, who runs the gym, said: ‘Gyms are part of the solution, not the problem.

The owners of AStar Muscle and Fitness in West Yorkshire, above, said gyms were 'part of the solution, not the problem'

Alex Lowndes (pictured above), who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength in Cambridgeshire, is also willing to face a potential fine of up to £10,000

The owners of AStar Muscle and Fitness in West Yorkshire (both left) said gyms were ‘part of the solution, not the problem’ while Alex Lowndes (right), who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength in Cambridgeshire, is also willing to face a potential fine of up to £10,000

‘Physical and mental health is so important especially at the minute. We are a lifeline for so many people, exercise is a massive thing for people.

‘We have had our own members attempt to take their own lives this year and you just never know how many more people who haven’t opened up have also been in a similar place.

‘Exercising massively helps people mentally, we genuinely believe what we are doing is the right thing to do.’

He added people’s mental health is a ‘real concern’ at this time of year with the cold weather and dark days.

He said: ‘We got through it in summer with outdoor workouts, but it’s going to be so different in winter with bad weather and dark mornings and nights.

‘It can be hard for people to find the motivation. It’s a real concern.’

Another gym owner said he would ‘100 percent’ break lockdown rules to keep both of his gyms open.

He claimed the science ‘doesn’t back the shutdown’ of gyms and labelled the government’s decision a farce.

AStar Muscle and Fitness (pictured above) in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, posted a video announcing they would remain open to support their members' mental and physical well being

AStar Muscle and Fitness (pictured above) in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, posted a video announcing they would remain open to support their members’ mental and physical well being

The two Instagram posts from AStar Muscle and Fitness, above, with one claiming: 'Prevention is better than cure, we know this, history has demonstrated this time and time again'

The two Instagram posts from AStar Muscle and Fitness, above, with one claiming: ‘Prevention is better than cure, we know this, history has demonstrated this time and time again’

Alex Lowndes, who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength in St Neots and Bedford in Cambridgeshire, said he was willing to accept the potential fine.

He said: ‘The science doesn’t back the shutdown of gyms. Garden centres are essential but gyms aren’t? It’s a farce.

‘None of us have got huge wads of money but this is bigger than £10,000. If they shut us down now then they’ll keep shutting us down.

‘Gyms are part of the solution here, not part of the problem. We need to be allowed to stay open. We are going to stay open.’

Mr Lowndes added: ‘The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had pledges with people offering to help out with a fine if that happens.’

Responding to the suggestion he would be contributing to spreading coronavirus by staying open, Alex said: ‘If you want to take that stance you should look at schools and universities.

‘You’ve got to shut down everything if you’re doing a lockdown.’

The gym owner’s decision was met with a mixed reaction on Facebook. 

One social media user, who claims to be a member at Gainz, said he was cancelling his membership as a result.

He explained: ‘As a member of the scientific community I cannot condone this and will have to resign my membership I’m afraid.

Alex Lowndes, who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength (above) in St Neots and Bedford in Cambridgeshire, claimed the science 'doesn't back the shutdown' of gyms

Alex Lowndes, who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength (above) in St Neots and Bedford in Cambridgeshire, claimed the science ‘doesn’t back the shutdown’ of gyms

In a social media post, above, the gym owner announced that his business would not be closing. He said the response has been 'overwhelmingly positive'

In a social media post, above, the gym owner announced that his business would not be closing. He said the response has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’

‘I had paid a whole year and had not asked for refund or extension during the last lockdown. Very happy to support a local business but not this attitude.’

Others praised Alex for pushing back at the lockdown measures, with another writing: ‘Good for him. 

‘Businesses need to push back against these unnecessary draconian measures!’ 

It follows a gym owner in Liverpool, Nick Whitcombe, previously refusing to close Bodytech Fitness in Moreton during the city’s Tier 3 lockdown – saying ‘he won’t have one to come back to’ if he did.

But he was quickly slapped with a £1,000 fine, after a member of the public reported the gym was still open, before armed officers turned up at the gym to demand he close it.

The gym boss then launched a campaign in which he vowed to stay open to members despite the threat of fines and closure, gaining over £53,500 via a GoFundMe page, for which the money will go towards mental health charities if the fine is overturned.

To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus after the first lockdown, a number of measures were introduced to gyms such as hand sanitiser stations and contactless payment. 

Guidance was also given to customers through signage in entrances, on booking forms and websites with fixing doors, left open where possible, fitted to increase ventilation.

Boris Johnson has promised the lockdown will end on December 2, but other senior ministers have hinted it may be extended if it does not succeed in sufficiently reducing infection rates

Boris Johnson has promised the lockdown will end on December 2, but other senior ministers have hinted it may be extended if it does not succeed in sufficiently reducing infection rates

Data for the end of October shows gyms were the sixth most common place for Test and Trace contact tracing exercises to be prompted, falling below supermarkets and pubs (file photo)

Data for the end of October shows gyms were the sixth most common place for Test and Trace contact tracing exercises to be prompted, falling below supermarkets and pubs (file photo)

Reducing the need to touch other objects, such as lockers, trunks and drawers, was also advised, with equipment to be made ‘readily accessible’.

The avoidance of paperwork was also recommended through online platforms and enabling a booking system, to manage demand, with sports and leisure facilities previously advised to work on a book-in-advance basis. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised the lockdown will end on December 2, but other senior ministers have hinted it may be extended if it does not succeed in sufficiently reducing infection rates.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Sunday there was ‘obviously a possibility’ the restrictions could last longer than the first lockdown.

MPs are set to vote tomorrow on the new lockdown measures which would come into place from Thursday.

The new rules will see most shops, pubs and restaurants closed throughout November in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Schools and colleges will remain open. People will also be allowed to exercise and socialise in outdoor public spaces with their household or one other person.

Gyms, shops and restaurants: What are the rules for businesses during England’s second lockdown?

  • Leisure facilities – such as gyms, swimming pools and soft play facilities – will be shut.
  • Supermarkets, food shops and pharmacists will remain open – meaning there is no need to head out and panic-buy.
  • Non-essential retail outlets, from car showrooms to clothing shops, will remain closed until the lockdown is over.
  • Those offering click-and-collect options can continue to operate – meaning that, unlike last time, you will be able to order some items online and pick them up in person.
  • Restaurants, cafes and pubs will all shut their doors to sit-in customers – but can carry on providing a takeaway service.
  • Alcohol cannot be served, however, meaning no repeat of the summer’s ‘takeaway pint’ phenomenon seen at many pubs.
  • Garden centres will be allowed to remain open. 
  • Golf courses and riding centres will close too, despite the activities largely taking place outdoors.
  • Hairdressers and beauty salons will be shut again, as will massage parlours and tanning salons.
  • Cinemas, theatres and bingo halls will also be forced to close their doors, along with zoos and botanical gardens. 

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