Closing gyms during pandemic bad for people’s health, owner says

Clients are angry that gyms, which many see as a form of therapy during the pandemic, are shutting down again

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The Doug Ford government is closing down fitness facilities when people most need the physical, mental health and immunity benefits of exercise, the owner of a Markham gym says.

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Recreational fitness facilities and similar indoor settings have been ordered to shutter effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday in response to a spike in Omicron variant cases.

Jay Rana, owner of Iron Fitness Strength Club on Highway 48, said his clients are angry that the gym, which many see as a form of therapy during the pandemic, is shutting down again.

“This time around, people are a lot more vocal and they’re a lot more upset,” he said.

Gyms are required to ensure their patrons are fully vaccinated.

Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the Omicron variant is highly transmissible in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

“Settings such as gyms are at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission due to forceful exhalation in an enclosed setting where masks are not always worn. For example, there are currently 19 active recreational fitness outbreaks, compared to 11 at restaurants, bars and nightclubs,” Hilkene said. “Throughout the pandemic local medical officers of health have reported significant COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks in these settings.”

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Unlike the early days of the pandemic when some spin and group fitness classes were linked to super spreader events, fitness facilities have not been a significant source of infections and his gym does not even offer those activities, Rana said.

Jay Rana, owner of Iron Fitness will close tomorrow. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
Jay Rana, owner of Iron Fitness will close tomorrow. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

People who choose to attend gyms are following the safety guidelines, he said.

There’s scientific evidence that poor fitness levels can contribute to more severe illness in people with COVID-19, and yet the arrival of extreme cold weather makes it more difficult to exercise outside, he said.

“You close the gyms, you close the places that promote physical activity, you keep people locked up, they’re eating more, they’re drinking more, they’re smoking more — it’s impacting their immune systems,” Rana said. “What do they expect when they lift these restrictions and people are out and about again with lowered immune health?

“They don’t even have a fighting chance,” he said.

Meanwhile, LCBOs, which have reported numerous COVID-19 cases, and cannabis retailers remain open, he said.

“The government feels booze is more important to mental health than physical wellness,” Rana said.

aartuso@postmedia.com

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