Last week, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions across Victoria. Two days later, at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday 27 October, gyms in regional and rural areas were duly opened.
It was thought that restrictions to the fitness industry would remain in Melbourne for some time yet, especially as Victorian Chief Health Officer, Professor Brett Sutton, recently commented that gyms would be among some of the last businesses to reopen, arguing they were a “known high-risk setting” and “cause outbreaks” of COVID-19.
Is this an indication of public pressure taking an effect with rising numbers of anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne? Or, is it perhaps delayed recognition that there is actually no evidence base to confirm that gyms constitute a higher COVID risk and should remain closed?
After all, the latest third step restrictions enable public facilities such as cafés and restaurants to open in Melbourne and they have comparable risks of shared equipment (high-contact surfaces) and poor ventilation.
They also fail to provide a health service for Melburnians, which calls into question their priority over fitness amenities.
Indeed, the damage has already been done to the Victorian health and fitness industry across this lockdown. With the longstanding state-wide closure of gyms many clients have taken up alternative forms of exercise during lockdown, or they have lost their motivation altogether to be physically active.
This is worrisome, especially when taking into account rising levels of mental health problems during the pandemic and how physical activity levels in the Australian population were already on the decline, even when there was a COVID-free society.
So when gyms do reopen in Melbourne on Monday there will likely be no cheering from their owners, as there is a long road to recovery for them on many different levels. It is doubtful whether the strict COVID-safe guidelines being imposed will enable them to financially survive.
As for thriving, that’s not going to be possible for a long time yet; gyms will struggle to return to the height of their pre-lockdown popularity as they have taken the biggest beating out of many businesses during these challenging COVID times.