By Jackson Russell
Gym owners have been left confused after being suddenly told they were unable to reopen when regional Victoria moved to the third step of the State Government’s roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions.
When the roadmap was first announced, gyms and other indoor physical recreation facilities were able to open in the third step but were ‘heavily restricted’.
However, when Premier Daniel Andrews announced the move to step three, he revealed gyms would remain closed due to data that showed a higher risk of transmission in gyms.
While indoor gyms are shut, the businesses are still able to host outdoor classes for up to 10 people or have staff on-site to record to stream online classes.
Totally Fit Gym in Wallan and OzzFit 24/7 in Kilmore are two Mitchell Shire facilities heavily affected by the announcement.
Totally Fit Gym owner Kieran Atkin said gyms were one of the most hygienic workplaces possible and used by people for the benefit of their mental health, as well as physical.
“I would question where that data came from because there hasn’t been a single cluster Australia-wide in gyms,” he said.
“We have a COVID safe plan we implemented after the first lockdown and it’s really cruel for the government to tell us we’re able to open then tell us that we can’t again without warning.
“Gyms aren’t just for people who are extremely fit, people do their rehab after accidents and injuries, and it’s a stress relief, and now it’s been taken away from people without explanation.”
OzzFit 24/7 owner Shannon Downey, who is also a founding member of fitness industry lobby group VicActive, said the announcement was a ‘significant dagger into the heart of gym owners’.
“We’re heartbroken but we’re not surprised because during the whole period the rules have changed on a whim,” he said.
“We’ve asked and requested from [Chief health officer Brett] Sutton the referenced data that gave them the thought to give the directive that gyms are a highly-transmissible space.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there has been one outbreak in Victorian gyms, which has 27 cases linked to it.
A DHHS spokesperson said gyms remained closed because the nature of working out carried a high risk of transmission, due to sweat and heavy breathing as well as shared equipment, and gyms were scheduled to open in the ‘last step’ which would not happen before November 23.
“We understand everyone is making huge sacrifices and the closure of gyms have been difficult, but this strategy is working and we are driving cases down,” the spokesperson said.
“The mental health and wellbeing of Victorians has always been our priority – we know how tough 2020 has been for the community and recognise that the mental health effects could long outlast the global pandemic.
“This is why we’ve invested nearly $200 million in additional mental health support to help meet demand and ensure Victorians get the care they need, during and well beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”
Minister for Business Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said the ‘heavily restricted’ conditions on gyms were still to be determined when he met with industry association Fitness Australia prior to the announcement.
“Ultimately, the public health advice defined heavily restricted in step three for regional Victoria as outdoor operations only,” he said.
“The Premier has made it clear that step three restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne may not necessarily be the same as those that apply currently to regional Victoria – this will depend on our level of success in reducing the rate of infection in the community.
“We will continue to consult with the industry and have facilitated a meeting between Fitness Australia and deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng for next week.”