news

"I can't see the logic": The reopening process isn't making sense to the fitness industry.

Australian states and territories are gradually winding back life-saving restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Pubs, clubs and restaurants are beginning to reopen, as are beauty salons and public parks and outdoor pools.

But with gyms still shut across most of the country, many in the fitness industry claim they’re being unfairly left behind.

Among them is Darren Tahu, the co-owner of Crossfit Kia Kaha, a gym in Maroubra in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. The facility ran classes with an average of 15 people before being forced to shut in late March.

Watch: While gyms are closed, here are some exercises you can do anywhere.

Video by Mamamia - The Glow

While Tahu understands the need to keep people safe from infection, he’s watched on, baffled, as governments have allowed other industries to open before his.

“‘Why’ is probably the first word that came out of my mouth,” he told Mamamia. “I just cannot see the logic… A one-on-one session gym is probably the safest you’re going to get versus someone doing your nails or cutting your hair or having 50 people in a pub.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It just leaves you, as an industry person, really scratching your head.”

Tahu’s business has lost 95 per cent of its revenue compared to the same time last year, yet he still has bills to meet. He and his business partner have just been just clinging on thanks to leniency from their landlord, JobKeeper payments, a state government small-business grant and a small income from renting equipment out to clients.

But he’s as eager to open for the wellbeing of his 150 members as much as his own.

CrossFit Kia Kaha before lockdown. Image: Supplied.

"The gym can be their second home, a place where they find a lot of friends or like-minded people," he said.

"We know them as family, we know their partners and kids and all that sort of stuff. So, the stress comes from making sure they're alright and making sure that their mental health is covered and they have a support system."

The industry asks: why pubs and not gyms?

Gyms remain closed in all states but Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where they were allowed to reopen in mid-May. In the former case, indoor fitness facilities are allowed to operate for a maximum of 20 clients at a time and no equipment can be shared.

Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia, meanwhile, have all flagged June open dates if the fight against the virus continues to go well.

But for gym operators in New South Wales and the ACT, it's still well and truly up in the air.

Speaking to the media on Monday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there is no timeframe for relaxing restrictions on gyms: "We're still working with industry on that," she said. "Obviously, frequent use of equipment at short intervals poses a health risk."

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, come June 1, up to 50 patrons will be allowed to dine in restaurants, pubs and clubs around the state. And outdoor gym equipment, playgrounds and outdoor swimming pools are open for use by up to 10 people at once.

A petition is being circulated on Change.org calling on NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to open gyms on the same date: "Gyms are not even open for trainers to perform one-on-one training, let alone [for] 50 people at a time. I feel this to be a huge injustice to a community that is serving to IMPROVE health outcomes," the appeal by CrossFit coach Hayden Farrelly-Whiley reads.

At the time of writing, the petition has more than 14,000 signatures.

What is the likelihood of a second wave of COVID-19 in Australia? The Quicky investigates. (Post continues below.)

The appeal has been echoed by industry association, Fitness Australia.

In a statement, the organisation's CEO, Barrie Elvish, called for state governments to prioritise the health and wellbeing of Australia's 4 million gym users by allowing indoor facilities to open.

"Gym owners, operators and the industry are extremely frustrated that cafes, pubs, restaurants and hotels appear to be being given relaxed concessions," Elvish said.

“Putting the health and wellbeing of Australians first has never been more important. It’s essential the government prioritises this before the long-term economic cost and mental health impacts of COVID-19 become greater.”

The industry, which is worth an estimated $3 billion a year and employs more than 35,000 staff nationwide, has developed a COVID Safety Plan Framework for the reopening of facilities, including strict hygiene and physical distancing measures.

“We have done this to demonstrate the industry is willing, and ready, to do whatever it takes to reopen and provide the community with the confidence their health and safety is protected in a gym environment," Elvish said. "All our operators understand the health and commercial implications of not getting it right, which is why there is so much focus on having a robust plan.”

Are gyms risky?

In his statement, Barrie Elvish claimed that the belief that gyms are high-risk for COVID-19 infections is “misguided".

But experts urge caution.

Associate Professor Philip Russo, President of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, told Mamamia gyms are likely to be considered less safe than pubs and restaurants because of the smaller confines and close-together equipment.

"There is probably also concern that exercise may bring on coughing, so if somebody did have COVID-19 they would be contaminating the environment, which is one of the ways it is spread," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

He pointed to a recent cluster of 112 COVID-19 cases in South Korea that was linked to fitness dance classes.

Analysis of the cluster by Dankook University Hospital concluded that, "Intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase risk for infection". Contributing factors included large class sizes, small spaces, the moist atmosphere inside the fitness centre and the movement of air generated by vigorous activity.

Assoc. Prof. Russo advised anyone returning to gyms in the coming weeks to ask the following questions of its owners/operators:

  • Is the gym able to identify who used the gym and at what times? (This would be crucial if contact tracing was required.)
  • How often do they clean the gym and equipment?
  • What measures do they have in place to ensure the cleaning is done?
  • Do they have hand sanitiser placed throughout?
  • How do they monitor how many people are in a room?

Tahu is confident he and other small fitness facilities could keep the risk of infection low, with limited class sizes and times, physical distancing, rigorous sanitising of equipment and high-contact surfaces, temperature screening of clients, and so on.

Yet he feels he'll be held back by a uniform approach to an industry that is anything but.

"Maybe one of the things that the government doesn't understand is that these smaller boutique gyms — CrossFit, pilates, F45, and so on — are different to bigger ones. We're actually community-based gyms; it's almost like a club more than anything," he said. "It feels a little bit to us that we have been lumped in with the big gyms and forgotten."

***

When gyms will reopen in your state:

QLD: From June 12, indoor gyms, health clubs, yoga studios and community sports clubs will be allowed to reopen to up to 20 people at a time. That is scheduled go up to 100 on July 10.
NSW: No date set.
ACT: No date set.
VIC: From June 22, indoor sports facilities, including gyms, can open but capacity is determined by the 4sqm per person rule, up to a maximum of 20 at a time.
TAS: From June 15, up to 20 people will be allowed to participate in indoor sport and recreation activities, including gyms.
SA: From June 1, gyms and indoor fitness facilities can reopen for up to 20 people at a time.
WA: Gyms opened on May 18 for up to 20 people and are bound to the 4sqm/person rule.
NT: Gyms opened May 15, with two-hour limit.

Read more about COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain home as much as possible, keep at least 1.5 metres away from people not in your household, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Supplied.

00:00 / ???