The Latest on Climbing Walls Reopening
- Tuesday 2nd June 2020
Keith Sharples reports…
It’s almost four weeks now since Climber first looked at how and when climbing walls might reopen – click here for that article. At the time we published that article all four home nations were under full lockdown albeit the deaths being attributed to the virus were declining from the peak which had occurred nearly three weeks earlier in mid-April.
Currently, the (four-day moving average) reported deaths (c.200/day) are down to a fifth what they were at the peak of the pandemic (c.950/day). However, whilst the number of deaths (both from Covid-19 and the excess deaths) continues to reduce, the rate of that decline is now itself reducing. Yet as the pandemic stubbornly continues the home nation governments are easing back on lockdown restrictions to give people more opportunities to get out and to exercise; if nothing else that’s lightening the mood a little as well as helping to boost individual’s mental health. In England however, the Government are pushing ahead with plans to ease lockdown restrictions at a faster and ever-increasing rate. There is an emerging disquiet between said Government plans and the scientific community many of who believe the Government are now being too liberal with their plans whether that’s to support the economy or for other reasons. It’s always been a concern but there is now increasing chatter that a second spike both of infections and deaths might well result; indeed, that it might already have been triggered. It is against this convoluted backdrop we look again at the plans to reopen the climbing walls.
Easing of Lockdown Restrictions
In the days/weeks following our original article the deaths arising from Covid-19, as stated above, continued to fall. Understandably as the death rate fell attention began to shift towards lifting lockdown restrictions and returning to some semblance of normal. The Irish Government were first off the bench when, on May 2nd, they published a comprehensive roadmap for easing their restrictions. Controversially, at least in some peoples’ eyes, England saw the first easing in lockdown restrictions when de-restricted travel for unlimited outdoor exercise and a limited return to work came into effect from May 13th – click here for that report. A further easing of lockdown restrictions in England was recently signed-off by Westminster; from yesterday groups of up to six people from different households are allowed to meet outside and junior schools were reopened to certain year groups.
The devolved administrations have also been easing lockdown restrictions – albeit on a more modest scale and slower timeline. Scotland was the first to ease restrictions on leisure albeit with a requirement not to travel more than five miles – click here for our recent report on that.
Likewise, the Welsh Government has similarly made their first tentative steps towards easing lockdown restrictions. From yesterday, people from two households in the same local area were able to meet outdoors and exercise subject to social distancing and strict hand hygiene. In this context, the term local was defined as not travelling more than five miles. Click here for our report on that.
So, when might walls reopen?
So, once again, we return to the $64 million question; when will the gym industry - and hence climbing walls - be allowed to reopen? When we looked at this question in early May the initial optimism that climbing walls might reopen for the summer was then fading fast in the rearview mirror. Although many experienced wall operators at that time were hopeful it would be “sooner rather than later” they then believed that a more realistic timescale for reopening would be “late summer/early autumn”.
Since then, however, the situation appears to have changed – again. As outlined above, the respective governments for the four home nations have been developing their own reopening strategies and timetables depending upon the advice being given to them by their advisors and the Covid-19 situation in their areas. As a result, each of the four nations are now moving forward with different easements plans and at different speeds. The timetable for reopening of climbing walls in the four nations will almost certainly be different too.
The following is a summary of the announcement dates in each of the different administrations.
England: Announcement is expected on July 4th. Earliest possible reopening early July.
Scotland: Announcement expected on July 9th. Earliest possible reopening mid-July.
Wales: The next review of the Welsh lockdown regulations will be on June 18th.
Ireland: The Irish Government published a detailed roadmap on May 2nd (click here for that) in which they set August 10th as the date at which gyms et al can reopen. Northern Ireland is expected to follow the Ireland timetable.
Unsurprisingly, the situation regards Covid-19 continues to change on a daily basis. Whilst scientific knowledge and data with regards to Covid-19 continues to develop there still remains a dearth of hard facts in some areas of our understanding related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19. For example, very little is still understood on how long the virus lives on climbing holds and how the cleanliness or otherwise of the holds impacts the virus. In the absence of a vaccine the central plank of public health advice that “prevention is better than cure” holds true and hand hygiene and social distancing measures/protocols remain paramount.
Understandably, therefore, the need for operators to facilitate good hand hygiene and social distancing remains at the heart of the plans for reopening climbing walls.
Last week Rich Emerson Chairman of the ABC (Association of British Climbing Walls) did a live Q&A on the BMC Facebook page. Click here for that link. As we outlined in our earlier report small working groups have been busy behind the scenes developing guidelines for reopening the climbing walls. Whilst those guidelines haven’t yet been made public they have been submitted to Government for review. “They have been well-received and we are hopeful that they can be the basis on which climbing walls can reopen.” Richard Emerson said during the Q&A.
In addition to the guidelines, Richard Emerson confirmed that the ABC has produced a set of procedures which climbing walls operators should use to enable the walls to reopen. These procedures, as we reported previously, centred on three aspects, namely: hygiene, capacity and social distancing.
The procedures have three levels or tiers of measures, namely; mandatory procedures, recommended procedures and additional procedures for considerations which relate to specific climbing wall environments. Richard Emerson confirmed that climbing wall operators are now developing their own site-specific procedures, using the ABC’s guidelines, in anticipation of reopening.
Hygiene measures will include both visitor and staff-related measures; hand washing and sanitisation remain at the centre of these protocols. In addition, climbing walls operators will need to manage visitor numbers and social distancing requirements when they reopen. The latest thinking is that climbing walls – along with the gym industry – will, initially at least, be allowed one visitor per 9m2 in addition to the need to ensure the 2m minimum social distancing. However, during his Q&A Richard Emerson suggested that wall operators will need to look at their specific site layouts and take into account building layouts etc. and that walls will probably reopen with fewer customers than one per 9m2.
Once the guideline procedures are finalised individual climbing walls will need to finalise their own site-specific protocols to ensure that they can demonstrate compliance with the minimum standards set out in the guidelines. Click here for our previous report which detailed the sort of measures that climbing wall operators need to put in place to enable their walls to reopen.
As more information becomes available Climber will bring you news so watch this space.