By Dimitris Ilias
North Shore gym owners faced once more the grim news that they cannot go back to work this past Monday October 26th when Premier Francois Legault announced the red zone restrictions that went into effect on Sept. 28 will be extended until Nov. 23. Legault noted that while cases of COVID-19 have plateaued at around between 800 to 1,000 new cases per day, the province is also seeing an average of roughly 10 new deaths per day. The premier announced that restrictions might be eased after 2 weeks once the case numbers are reevaluated but he added that he has to see those numbers drop below 500 cases a day in order for that to happen.
Coalition of Gym owners
A coalition of Quebec gyms, yoga studios and other activity centers which threatened to reopen, even though the province is extending its 28-day partial lockdown is now backing off its threat to defy red zone restrictions. Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault says the province will still go ahead with a new decree to allow fines for owners who reopen their facilities as well as their customers. They’re now inviting their members to protest the province’s guidelines by gathering — while respecting physical-distancing rules — in front of their respective activity centers. They’ve been closed since Oct. 8, along restaurants and movie theatres as part of a series of measures imposed by the Quebec government to contain the spread of the virus. The Premier said that gyms that open in those zones, in defiance of the restrictions, will be met with a police presence and will face fines.
According media reports, Dan Marino and Christian Ménard, who represent this coalition, have posted controversial and misleading information about COVID-19 on social media including posts that question the effectiveness of masks and minimize the dangers of the novel coronavirus. Ménard has asked people to sign a petition against Quebec’s mandatory mask law.
North Shore gyms
Just like everywhere else in the Quebec red zones, North Shore gyms were heavily impacted by the restrictions. At Zéro Limite Fitness in Blainville, owner Patricia Chiasson lamented the situation and the decision to close the gyms considered arbitrary by a lot of the gym owners when malls and small stores remain open. “We will not open and we will follow the government regulations but things are getting really hard” she said in an interview with NSN. “Financially we are hanging from a thread and I do agree with the coalition’s request to have the Quebec government release more detailed figures on where do we get most of the cases. I would like to see what percentage of those cases come from the gyms” she said. The distressed gym owner, a naturotherapist with more than 30 years of experience, reaffirmed that her gym not only spent a substantial amount of capital to bring her location up to specs to combat the virus according to the government’s regulations, but they were also strict in applying rules like social distancing to all the clients.
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Karim Toupin-Chaieb, owner of Crunch-Fitness in Boisbriand echoed similar sentiments with Chiasson. “We are not planning to open against the regulations” he affirmed. “Our situation is, however, atrocious. We opened our brand-new gym in Boisbriand on the 27th of February 2020 and had to close 3 weeks later on the 15th of March”. Karim described the difficult situation he and his co-owner are in not being able to use government aid since they cannot prove a reduction of revenue since last year. “We fell through a crack in the legislation because we opened in 2020. We also follow strictly all the government directives concerning safety and have invested heavily in our client’s well-being” he added.
Shutting down gyms when there is no transparency about case numbers related to the propagation of the virus in them is absurd according to Karim. The health benefits, physical and mental, are immense. Εspecially during pandemic times. For many people going to the gym represents their only outlet and a healthy way to shed stress, negative emotions and all sorts of dark emotional baggage related to Covid.
Like many other businesses hit by the pandemic, gym owners have had to adapt. A lot of gyms are offering online workouts and many have been investing heavily in acquiring new online skills to keep their businesses afloat. New websites and camera equipment are purchased and used to facilitate a greater online presence. The pandemic has increased the addressable market for virtual fitness offerings and also forced traditional gyms to move into offering more virtual products for at-home workouts. The pandemic has also raised awareness of the health benefits of working out: Poor cardiovascular health is one of the major risk factors for severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.
For many of the North Shore gyms however, who depend on the steady neighborhood clients and who do not necessarily have the funds for such online upgrades, the situation is dire. The coming months before the vaccine will be hard and owners hope the Government is listening.
Zéro Limite Fitness: At Zéro Limite Fitness in Blainville, owner Patricia Chiasson lamented the situation and the decision to close the gyms
Crunch Fitness: Karim Toupin-Chaieb, owner of Crunch-Fitness in Boisbriand affirmed that he is not planning to open against regulations