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No change to fitness centre restrictions as Victorian Government eases lockdown measures
Yesterday’s announcement by the Victorian Government that it will be rolling back COVID-19 restrictions as the Coronavirus recedes, while seeing a lifting of the night curfew and allowing thousands of people, does not extend to the reopening of indoor aquatic, fitness and recreation facilities.
The changes were announced on Sunday after the two-week rolling case average for new cases in Melbourne fell to 22.1, well under the aim of 30-50. As of yesterday, the average is just 0.6 for regional Victoria.
From 11:59pm last night, 127,000 workers will be allowed to return to work, close to 30,000 more than originally expected while Year 12 students will return to school for assessments on 3rd October with primary school students to return on 12th October.
Speaking yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews suggested that full freedom of movement, when Victorians can leave home without needing any reason, could come on 19th October ahead of AFL grand final weekend.
No reopening for indoor aquatic, fitness and recreation facilities
However, the easing of Coronavirus restrictions does not include any indication that indoor aquatic, fitness and recreation facilities will be allowed to reopen until late November, under the ‘Last Step’ of the Victorian Government’s Coronavirus easing roadmap.
Industry group VIC Active has slammed the Victorian Government’s refusal to review its stance on fitness club restrictions, despite what it says is overwhelming evidence that clubs are COVID-safe and critical to mental health and wellbeing.
VIC Active, the recently formed peak body representing more than 100 Victorian club owners, 4000 staff and 300,000 members, met with Victorian Government representatives last week, in conjunction with Fitness Australia, to present its case for a safe reopening plan.
However, following yesterday’s announcement which saw no change to restrictions on fitness clubs,
VIC Active spokesman Tim Schleiger said the Victorian Government’s position that clubs were high risk is fundamentally wrong, and ongoing closures were doing untold damage to the health of Victorians.
Schleiger explained “fitness clubs are not high risk - there is now clear and irrefutable evidence of that from all over the world, but the Government is ignoring facts and keeping clubs closed on a guess.
“Data collected by Fitness Australia shows that from 7.31 million check-ins across 546 clubs in the first eight weeks after they reopened in NSW there were zero cases of reported community transmission.
“In the United States, from 49.4 million club visits, across 2877 locations in August, the infection occurrence rate was 0.002%. ZERO transmission occurred from any reported cases.
“Similarly in the UK, the infection rate is 0.34 cases per 100,000 visits, from 22 million visits in the two months following reopening, according to UKActive, with zero community transmission recorded.
“Unlike many other industries, fitness clubs know exactly who is using the facilities, at what time and for how long. We have an almost unrivalled capacity for contact tracing – should it even be required.
“Fitness clubs were already highly controlled clean environments, regulated with gold standard hygiene processes - these are significantly enhanced by COVID-safe plans.”
Dr Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan, specialist in human movement at Charles Sturt University, has warned that ongoing closures would have a series of knock-on ramifications.
Dr Jefferson-Buchanan advised “improved physical and mental health status leads to more physical activity, which in turn has a positive association with better mental health and physical health. People with high exercise levels also display fewer health problems when they encounter stress.
“Premier Andrews must provide an evidence base for this gym closure decision, or the mid and long-term adverse health effects for the Victorian population will be felt. Gyms need to be reclassed as an essential service during this pandemic.
“Long-term consequences of a lack of fitness activities in gyms will likely affect the population’s future motivation to exercise and re-join gyms when they eventually open. This will have an adverse effect on the population’s health, as well as the fitness industry more generally.
Dr Jefferson-Buchanan pointed to a 2018 study that investigated the relationship between resistance exercise training and mental health outcomes. It concluded that weight training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms regardless of the participants’ age, sex, health status, or the program/session duration, intensity, or frequency.
Emphasising these links, Schleiger added “there is a clear statistical connection between professional exercise environments and physical health and wellbeing. The Government cannot keep ignoring this.
“We know that healthy people can withstand the virus. But by enforcing ongoing lockdowns, the Government is increasing the danger of the virus.
“The best way to get Victorians back on track is to re-open fitness facilities with COVID-safe plans; the 40,000 fitness and wellbeing professionals across the state are ready, willing and able to get the community on the road to recovery.
“Fitness centres are integral to maintaining physical and mental wellbeing and so it’s now critical that people can be allowed to access them in a responsible and COVID-safe way.
“Gyms were already highly regulated, clean and sanitary environments prior to the pandemic. All VIC Active members have COVID-Safe plans in place which increase the level of safety. The suggestion that fitness centres are high risk is simply wrong.”
VIC Active highlight that the broader industry in Victoria comprises more than 45,000 staff while one in six Victorians regularly attend a fitness centre.
Victoria’s lockdown easing followed the resignation of Jenny Mikakos as the state’s Health Minister on Saturday after Premier Andrews told the hotel quarantine inquiry her department was ultimately responsible for running the botched quarantine system.
Images (from top): Fitness equipment adapted to enforce social distancing (courtesy of Mel Tempest/Life Fitness), VIC Active spokesman Tim Schleiger, Fitness First staff conducting temperature checks (courtesy of Fitness First Australia) and a club with only every second treadmill in use (courtesy of Mel Tempest/Life Fitness).
25th September 2020 - Fitness Australia asserts there is no clear evidence gyms spread COVID -19
24th September 2020 - Aquatic, fitness and sport facilities headed for membership crisis
18th September 2020 - Operator questions Fitness Australia’s 26th October reopening claim for Victorian gyms
16th September 2020 - Victoria’s aquatic industry leaders call for clarity
14th September 2020 - 15 new COVID-19 mental health clinics open in Victoria
12th September 2020 - Tasmanian Government allows conditional reopening of 24/7 gyms
11th September 2020 - Victorian Government plans look at venues reopening from 26th October
10th September 2020 - FITREC delivers Code of Practice for outdoor fitness training in public spaces
10th September 2020 - Fitness Australia confirms Melbourne gyms to reopen from 26th October
9th September 2020 - Aquamoves upgrades 25 metre indoor pool during Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions
8th September 2020 - New body to advocate for the reopening of fitness centres in Victoria
7th September 2020 - Victorian Chief Health Officer’s comments ‘devastating’ to gym owners
3rd September 2020 - Victorian gym owners plan legal ‘class action’ to reopen gyms
1st September 2020 - Fitness Ventures Group looks to be part of re-defining the fitness experience
31st August 2020 - Fitness and Lifestyle Group advises of redundancies amid restructure
19th August 2020 - FITREC highlights ‘heartbreaking’ impact of Victoria’s Coronavirus lockdown
11th August 2020 - Fitness facilities at the crossroads and demanding new approaches
31st July 2020 - Melbourne gym hosts anti-mask conspiracy theorists meeting
15th June 2020 - Survey suggests Australian gyms facing massive membership decline
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