Coronavirus: SA’s big gyms remain stubbornly open despite the huge Covid-19 risk
South Africa's two largest gym chains, Virgin Active and Planet Fitness, will not be closing their doors. This is despite the Department of Health appeal for people to try and stay away from gyms and experts warning against this. The Department of Health has issued a guide for social distancing that clearly states that people must avoid gyms.
Professor Francois Venter, a world leading Infectious Diseases expert and Divisional Director of Ezintsha said gyms presented “extremely high risks of spreading the virus”.
“The biggest thing that people can do at the moment is social isolation,” he said, adding that information was showing that most the new infections were caused by those who were asymptomatic, meaning that they showed no signs of having Covid-19.
“People need to try and stay home and stay away from people and minimise contact with others,” he pleaded.
“People need to face the inconvenience of not going to the gym either this week or next week. I think it’s utterly ridiculous to close all the schools in the country but have our gyms open,” said Venter. Gyms in Europe and the United States were also closing as the pandemic took hold around the world.
On a personal note Venter added his climbing gym City Rock was closed. “I think they are showing amazing leadership, and they are tiny compared to these chains,” he added.
In response to questions from Daily Maverick, Virgin Active spokesperson Carla White said in a statement they were introducing hand sanitiser throughout their clubs, placed at the entrance and on the gym floor and will be rolling out additional dispensers as a second phase. “Scanners have been repositioned to allow members to self-scan their cards for access.”
White said that the coronavirus did not spread through sweat or pool water but rather through respiratory droplets.
She said they would be decreasing group exercises by half and that the children’s club V programme would be closed as of Thursday, 19 March as a precautionary measure
Regarding precautionary measures for their headquarters staffing component of 300, White responded that: “Our head office teams (who fulfil national support functions) are encouraged to work remotely from home. They are given the tools to ensure business as usual.”
Planet Fitness said that they had implemented measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19 such as sanitisers, urging members to use two towels, wash their hands regularly and keep a safe distance from other members. They also said staff were cleaning the gym equipment more regularly but currently that there was no intention to close.
Several members of Planet Fitness gym said there had not been any correspondence from the gym or personal trainers regarding what precautionary measures the establishment was taking in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. DM
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