Reclassify us as essential, allow us to operate, plead gym operators

A loose coalition of private gymnasium owners and operators in Malaysia has urged the government to reclassify the fitness industry as an essential service and to prioritise the reopening of the sector as soon as possible.

The Malaysian Fitness Coalition, in a statement today, said the Covid-19 pandemic had also resulted in an alarming increase in stress and mental health issues. This was in addition to the prevalence of non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes, which were among the main contributors to Covid-19 related deaths in the country.

“The one economic sector which, not only has the lowest on-site transmission rates, but also produced zero Covid-19 clusters, positively contributes to the nation’s fight against Covid-19 and reduces the burden on national healthcare spending in the long run, remains sidelined,” said Kenny Sia, a Sarawak-based gymnasium operator and member of the coalition.

A recent study by Glasgow Caledonian University showed that physical activity can boost the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 40 per cent.

Gymnasiums have been forced shut following the implementation of the Movement Control Order nationwide. Many anticipate the “total lockdown” would be extended beyond June 14.

Malaysia recorded 6,849 new Covid-19 cases today. Selangor registered the most cases (2,558 cases) followed by Kuala Lumpur (884) and Sarawak (699).

“Gyms and fitness centres have among the strictest standard operating procedures (SOPs), and the lowest transmission rates by far, compared to many other sectors. We have consistently proven our ability to control crowds and maintain social distancing through our respective booking and visitation management procedures,” said another member of the coalition, Andrew Philips.

“A recent survey among 254 of our industry peers showed only one reported on-site transmission for roughly every 2.85 million visits – proof that if all SOPs are adhered to by everyone, gymnasiums are safe.”

The survey, carried out last month, saw feedback from owners and operators of boutique fitness centres, yoga studios, mixed martial arts studios, CrossFit gyms and multi-national chain operators, among others.

The coalition stressed that the gymnasium and fitness industry cannot be lumped together with the recreational sporting sector.

Another coalition member, Raheem Hamilton, said: “We are an economic sector on our own. We are a critical component in a supply chain that includes towel suppliers, cleaning vendors, fitness equipment suppliers, and more recently, sanitisation services, all of whom have suffered as a result of gymnasium closures throughout the various movement control orders.”

The Playground Fitness owner Toh Yen Kee said allowing gymnasiums to open would not only help operators ensure the sustainability of the fitness industry and prevent more job losses but give stakeholders a chance to protect the rakyat by “doing what we do best”.

“Let us help by providing an avenue for our members and customers to benefit from regular physical activity, enjoy better quality of life, and in the long run, drive the country’s economic stability,” said Toh.

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