South African gyms protest continued closure under lockdown

Gym employees will hold a protest on Wednesday afternoon (5 August) as the industry faces a prolonged closure under South Africa’ lockdown regulations.

FitSA’s Grant Austin told eNCA that the fitness and gym industry now faces significant job losses, with a number of employees not receiving any pay since the end of March.

Austin said that as many as 29,000 jobs are at stake, with nearly a third (31%) of all industry players announcing retrenchment. He added that 14% of these companies completed these retrenchments by the end of July.

About 48% of gyms have indicated that if they do not open soon they will close and never reopen, he said.

Austin said that gyms and the fitness industry were particularly important as obesity was one of the key co-morbidities when looking at coronavirus deaths.

“Gyms are quite a special environment. We are used to sanitising, we have access control and we can screen out people that are high-risk.

“Under 5% of our members are over 65. As an industry, we have also developed system protocols and it is easy to social distance  – we just take equipment out of the gym.”

Gyms and fitness centres have remained closed in South Africa since the country first moved to a level 5 lockdown on 27 March.

This forced the country’s two biggest gyms – Virgin Active and Planet Fitness – to freeze memberships and stop their members’ monthly debit orders.

The two groups have increasingly turned to online offerings to help stem the losses, but have also started preparing for the reopening of their gyms in line with new health and safety regulations.

“Until we have a date from the government and know what their requirements are, we are prepping for all possible scenarios,” said Virgin Active.

If necessary, Virgin Active has prepared the capability to use a “book your slot” system, which would require members to book their gym sessions in advance.

Upon arrival at a Virgin Active gym, temperature checks will take place, and gym goers will need to fill in a quick questionnaire regarding any possible symptoms. Members will be expected to wear a mask throughout their time at the gym.

Planet Fitness says it has also gone to great lengths to make sure that it can reopen safely.

“Planet Fitness is working around the clock to adhere to government protocol around exercise and social distancing to ensure that when day one comes, we are ready to open and it will be safe to do so.

The group said that it put in place several measures before the lockdown officially begun to ensure that its members were safe.

These included removing certain equipment from the floor and reducing the number of people allowed in the gym at any one time.

Read: WHO experts flown in to help South Africa with coronavirus fight

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South African gyms protest continued closure under lockdown