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Fitness Australia calls for COVID Marshal overhaul in NSW

Fitness Australia calls for COVID Marshal overhaul in NSW
October 2, 2020

Fitness Australia is calling for the removal of what it calls “unnecessary” COVID Marshal restrictions that apply to fitness facilities in NSW, claiming “hundreds of metro and regional businesses (will) go broke due to the increased costs and financial pressures associated with employing marshals during all operating hours”.

Fitness Australia Chief Executive, Barrie Elvish said the impact of requiring COVID Marshals during all operational hours was particularly hard on gyms and facilities that operated 24/7 as well as community members who relied on 24-hour access to a safe and secure exercise environment.

Elvish advised “most 24/7 gyms across NSW can no longer afford to operate 24 hours. They have been forced to reduce operating hours to ensure they can meet the COVID Marshal requirement. The effect of this is reduced access to safe and secure gyms for people in the community who need to use the gym at odd hours.

“We are calling on the NSW Government to remove the current COVID Marshal requirements for fitness facilities and instead introduce them only during peak times in line with other industries such as hospitality. We have successfully worked with other states and territories including Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT to develop COVID-Safe operational plans for all fitness facilities including 24/7 gyms.”

Despite having no success with changing the view of Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer on gym closures, Elvish said the NSW Government relaxing the COVID Marshal requirement during all operating hours would enable 24/7 gyms to increase their operating hours, allowing visitor numbers to be spread over a longer period rather than larger numbers during peak hours.

He added “gyms are an essential part of the solution to keeping Australians fit and healthy, yet current requirements are restricting people from accessing fitness facilities at times that suit their work schedule and lifestyle.

“By relaxing the current COVID Marshal requirement, 24/7 gyms would be able to operate 24-hours and give people greater round the clock access to safe and secure facilities. We know from data gathered the burden and costs of a COVID Marshal at all times is not sustainable and, in many cases, is sending businesses to the brink of closure.”

Fitness Australia gathered attendance data from more than 460 24/7 gyms in NSW in early July, which showed average visits over a 24-hour period for one week as well as average square metres per person during the same period.

The results found:

• During overnight hours gym attendance was below 4.2 visits per hour between 10pm and 5am, resulting in more than 133 metre² of social distancing space per person (based on an average facility size of 559 metre²). These attendances are monitored by swipe card entry and CCTV
• During the busiest timeslot of 5pm – 6pm, the average square metres per person was 16.36 metre² (based on an average facility size of 559 metre²)
• Densities for each person during unstaffed hours was between 20 metre² and more than 600 metre²
• The cost of employing a dedicated COVID Marshal at all times was an additional $2,000 - $5,000 per week
• Due to reduced operating hours businesses are seeing an increase in visits during peak hours, in some cases an increase of more than 30%.

Fitness Australia point out that the effect of COVID Marshals in regional areas has been magnified due to lower member numbers but a higher percentage of shift workers needing to access the facilities around the clock.

Shaun Ruzicka, owner and operator of the United Fitness Studio in Bega in southern NSW said the impact has been so significant on his 24/7 business he had resorted to sleeping at the gym to ensure there was a COVID Marshal available whenever people turned up to exercise.

Ruzicka advised “we might only be a small regional gym but we provide an essential service to the Bega community, particularly to many doctors, nurses, police and other shift workers who need to be able to fit a workout around their irregular schedule.

“I’ve resorted to sleeping overnight at the gym to ensure my members can still access the gym they pay for, at a time that is convenient for them. The impact this has had on my family and kids is devastating. Yet I have no other option as reducing my operating hours would send me broke.

“If it were the same rule for all industries, I’d be OK with that, but it isn’t. I have a laundromat near me that isn’t required to have a COVID Marshal, hygiene practices or sanitization protocols, yet people are allowed to come and go any time, touch the same surfaces and mingle together. Meanwhile, here we have robust hygiene and social distancing in place and all the equipment is cleaned after very use. It’s ridiculous.”

Fitness Australia is calling for the removal of the current requirements for COVID Marshals in favour of the following:

• The use of marshals during peak times in line with other industries such as hospitality (also in line with South Australia) OR reduced capacity during unstaffed hours to 10m2 per person (use of technology and data to monitor/cap) 
• Signage at the entrance that list the COVID Safe requirements to use a facility, including distancing and cleaning requirements 
• The capacity for the gym for both unstaffed and staffed hours must be displayed on the entrance doors to the gym 
• A thorough clean must be performed, preferably by a professional cleaner, twice a day - before the first peak period and after the last peak period of the day. A log of this should be kept proving it has been done 
• 24/7 gyms must review security camera footage daily. A staff log should be kept proving this has been done.
• Patrons observed to have broken COVID restrictions during unstaffed hours are to receive a written warning from the gym. Gyms may also introduce a "three strikes and you're out" policy if they wish 
• Patrons should be encouraged to report to management any other patrons they not following COVID-Safe restrictions.

Image courtesy of NSW Health.

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