PEOPLE from Gwent particularly affected by current coronavirus restrictions have been responding to the findings of a health body’s report into Covid-19.

On Monday, March 15, Public Health Wales (PHW) published findings of its study into coronavirus, which suggested that mixing in pubs and homes can increase the risk of passing on the virus, but that gyms and restaurants were less likely to.

It is important to note that the findings were based on a single study of results from mass testing sites in Merthyr Tydfil and Cynon Valley.

The study takes its findings from the responses to an online questionnaire, completed between November 21 and December last year by 199 people with a positive test from the site, and a sample of 2,261 negatives, with questions asked on demographic and social risk factors.

You can read the full findings of that report here.

In brief, the surveys found the following:

  • In this community, transmission within the household was the highest source of infection.
  • Working in the hospitality sector, and visiting the pub were significant risks but at the time of this study were relatively infrequent exposures, due to restrictions at the time.
  • Smoking or vaping had a small but significant effect on risk of transmission.
  • Working in social or healthcare had an increased risk.
  • In this community, and at this point in the epidemic, reducing transmission from a household contact who is self-isolating would have the biggest public health impact.
  • No evidence was found that education settings provided a significant risk of transmission to adults: Working in education, living with someone working in education, or living with school age children were not important risk factors in this study.
  • Visiting facilities such as supermarkets, restaurant, gyms and leisure centre also did not appear to increase risk of infection.

On PHW’s study, Professor Daniel Thomas, consultant epidemiologist at PHW's Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, said: “This study reminds us that while education settings do not appear to present a significant transmission risk for coronavirus, there is a much greater risk of catching the virus at home, in a hospitality setting, or in the pub.”

Responding, a gym owner, gym goers, a pub landlord, and a restaurateur have shared their thoughts on the study.

‘I fear this has come too late’

Alex Bodin, owner of One Gym in Newport, said he is part of a group of 150 gym traders in Wales that is looking into pursuing legal action against the Welsh Government for continued closure with limited evidence of transmission in gym settings.

South Wales Argus: Alex Bodin

Alex Bodin

The First Minister this week suggested Welsh Government claims about gyms earlier in the pandemic may have been misguided.

He said: "I've been reading evidence recently that says we shouldn't treat all gyms the same. Up until now that is what we have done, we have treated gyms as one class and have kept either all of them closed or all of them open."

On Friday the First Minister said that gyms, outdoor hospitality and extended households will be considered as part of a review on April 22.


Mr Bodin says he welcomes the findings of PHW’s report, but he believes the damage may have already been done.

“The Welsh Government has used terms like ‘super spreader’ about us since last March, and this industry won’t just come back from that,” he said.

“It’s irresponsible of anybody to use those terms without evidence, let alone a government.”

In January the Welsh Government Technical Advisory Group published a paper that looked at the risks linked to gyms and leisure centres. Those findings suggested the opposite of PHW’s report this week, instead saying the risk of transmission was “high” in those settings. You can see that paper here.

Mr Bodin added: “The confusing reports and the lack of communication from the government doesn’t help. I’ve heard nothing from a government official since March last year. To be drip-fed this information through the press has been really frustrating.

“The report in January was obviously based on a blanket approach, and I fear it will hurt us and have a long-lasting impact. Things the Welsh Government has said are now engrained in people’s minds.”

A letter is to be sent to the Welsh Government this week from solicitors on behalf of Welsh gym owners, and will signal intent to begin a judicial review – calling into question the government’s decision to keep gyms closed “without necessary evidence to support that decision”.

‘We feel forgotten’

Professional athlete and UK Strongwoman Sam Taylor, from Abergavenny, and her wife Sue Taylor-Franklin – also a professional powerlifter from Barry, say they feel people who base their lives around the gym have been forgotten.

South Wales Argus: Sam Taylor and Sue Taylor-Franklin

Sam Taylor and Sue Taylor-Franklin

“It’s welcome news [the report], but I worry suggestions some gyms will open and some will stay closed will really hurt smaller independent gyms which have already been hit so hard,” Mrs Taylor said.

“Why can’t all gyms open to minimal people and do an appointment-based system?

“In my experience in this pandemic I feel gyms are the cleanest places to be. Everyone cleans everything before passing it on to someone else. I can’t say the same about supermarkets.

“The impact on mental health worries me the most. 95 per cent of the people I know who go to the gym do so for mental health reasons. It’s no coincidence we’re seeing a rise in suicides now when people’s routines have been taken away from them.”

Mrs Taylor-Franklin said: “As professional athletes it’s been really difficult not to be able to train. Our fear is these events will go ahead and we will not have been able to train in preparation for those events.

“It’s upsetting to see the rugby and football players on TV travelling all over the country, and yet we’re not allowed to go into a quiet gym and train for our events.”

‘We’d rather wait and get it right’

Restaurateur at the Beaufort Hotel in Raglan Miguel Santiago says the report hasn’t changed his mind, and he would rather wait until mid-May to make sure there isn’t another spike in cases.

South Wales Argus: Miguel Santiago

Miguel Santiago

He questioned the report, saying he doesn’t understand how a restaurant can be largely safe and a pub under Covid restrictions unsafe.

This week Carl Willett and Paul Cinderey, landlords of the Castle Inn in Monmouth, started a GoFundMe page in an attempt to fund their own judicial review to push for the opening of hospitality settings in Wales.

“I don’t think it will make a difference, but can you imagine if that is successful and pubs and restaurants open up again,” Mr Santiago said. “If there is another spike it will be blamed on the hospitality sector, and we’ll all be closed again. How would the industry come back from that?

“Would it make a significant difference financially to pubs and restaurants at the moment if we were to open? I’m not sure it would. It would be outdoors and socially distanced. Is there much point until the weather improves?

“I expect we’ll be able to open towards the middle of May, and I’d be fine with that. It makes sense to me.

“The authorities must be responsible and help the industry to protect itself and protect others though. From now there should be health and safety audits to make sure we’re all ready for when that opening day comes. If not, there could be another wave, and if that happens it would be a catastrophe.”

‘The evidence against is us still lacking’

Even if restrictions were to lift now, pub landlords who do not have a beer garden like Mr Santiago – like David Foxford-Brown at the Coach and Horses Inn in Chepstow – are unlikely to be able to operate.

South Wales Argus: David Foxford-Brown

David Foxford-Brown

“It feels like we’re being penalised twice over really because of the lack of a beer garden,” he said. “Am I looking at June? It makes me feel sick to be honest with you.

“I took over this pub seven years ago. In January last year we finally felt we’d got it right and then Covid hit.

“I want to keep fighting. My background is in the forces and fighting is what I know best. But it’s getting tougher to keep it up.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that pubs cause high transmission rates, and this report doesn’t offer any evidence either.

“I get the feeling the hospitality sector is starting to come together now in a joint approach to question how we’ve been treated and portrayed.

“I’m shocked the Welsh Government has decided it’s safer to touch someone’s hair for an hour than to be in a pub socially distanced.

“I’d like to see evidence as to what has led to that decision being made. But as is always the case, that evidence is lacking.”

What happens now?

Yesterday the Welsh Government announced its new roadmap out of lockdown - saying outdoor hospitality, such as beer gardens, gyms, leisure centres, community centres and outdoor attractions may be able to re-open from April 22 - provided certain conditions are met. 

Speaking last week - before the new roadmap was announced - first minister Mark Drakeford said: “Unfortunately, there are very few guarantees in this pandemic.

"We know from our own experience – and experience in Europe – just how quickly events can take a turn for the worse.

“The highly-infectious Kent variant is now the most dominant form of the virus in Wales. This makes it even harder to predict what will happen as we begin to relax restrictions.

“If we all continue to work together and remember to follow the basic rules to protect ourselves and each other, I hope we will be able to keep on taking steps to unlock Wales at each three-week review through the spring.”