Gyms and leisure centres to reopen at 'start of July at the very earliest', culture secretary announces

Gyms, leisure centres, and "all the other normal fitness activities" will return at the "start of July at the very earliest", the culture secretary has announced.

Oliver Dowden said he was happy an "important milestone" had been reached with the return of Premier League football after 100 days, but he acknowledged how "people are itching" to get back to their regular fitness practices.

The return of live sport was never just about "elite" competition, he said adding how minsters are "working closely with the sector to get grassroots and community sport back up and running, as soon as it is safe".

He said gyms, leisure centres, five aside leagues and all the other normal fitness activities will return at the "start of July at the very earliest".

They had been forced to close by coronavirus on March 23 when the prime minister ordered a nationwide lockdown.

As the "best" football league in the world prepares to restart, Mr Dowden warned fans to only watch from home.

"Look after your fellow fans and your communities by watching from home - to keep the home advantage support from home," he said.

"All remaining 92 Premier League games will be shown live on TV," he added, with a third of all games set to be shown on free to air TV.

On Saturday the BBC will show its first ever Premier League with Bournemouth facing Crystal Palace at 19:45.

The Premier League returns this evening with Aston Villa v Sheffield United at 6pm and Manchester City facing Arsenal at 8:15pm.

UEFA earlier confirmed that the decision on whether the outstanding Champions League last 16 second legs will be played in host stadiums or in Portugal will be made before July 10.

While many fans will be excited for the return of football, the beautiful game will not be the same with provisions in place to ensure safety.

Among other changes, there will be no fans in the ground, meaning a lack of atmosphere and when players score they will not be allowed to celebrate together in groups as they must still observe social distancing.

The culture secretary earlier said he was working towards a return of cricket happening in "early July at the earliest providing it can be done safely".

Mr Dowden said he hopes the return of live football is "just another step towards normality, to be followed by many more in the months to come", but he suggested the outlook for performing arts is not good.

He said even indicated sports fans could return to stadiums before audiences would be allowed back into theatres.

With theatres operating on “wafer-thin” profit margins, Mr Dowden said it would be "very challenging for them to reopen without lots of people in the audience".

He said he's been talking "extensively and intensively" to experts in order to work out how performing arts can be back up and running.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber - who's had one of his shows return in South Korea - was among experts who had contributed to the conversation.

Mr Dowden said he's spoken to Baron Lloyd-Webber about how The Phantom of the Opera was able to be performed in Seoul.

"Over the next week we will be convening experts in a targeted way, bringing together our leading performers in theatres, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers.

“And the idea is that they will work together in detail to develop that roadmap which is so badly needed to performing safely – with a particular focus on piloting innovative ideas that may permit live performances.”