Gym owners express frustration over continued closure

Needless to say, the fitness community in the country is frustrated.

Just a couple weeks after being allowed to open their doors as the country went through its reopening of the economy plan, gyms around the country were forced to close down again amidst a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in The Bahamas. In total, gym owners and operators have lost over five months of revenue due to the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restrictions were relaxed a bit in July but gyms were quickly closed again, which, according to gym owners and operators around the country, has led to tremendous hardships for that profession. In a 75-second video that has spread across social media, and through various media outlets in The Bahamas, persons in the industry voice their displeasure with the current COVID-19 orders, forcing them to remain closed.

“As a gym owner, I am very concerned about the fact that our gyms and other fitness facilities have not been able to open. [We] have liaised with all the gym owners of all the major facilities and they have all followed all the COVID-19 protocols required, as mandated by the Ministry of Health, and still they have been denied,” said Vaklev Bastian, owner of Newbody Fitness Personal Training Studio on West Bay Street.

“We currently have about 10 major gym facilities in Nassau and about five in Grand Bahama. To date, according to the Ministry of Health, no COVID-19-positive cases have been traced back to a gym facility, nor a gym member, trainer or owner. In addition, we see newspaper articles highlighting the fact that obesity has risen during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many of the COVID-19 victims were in poor health and had pre-existing conditions as a result of poor fitness lifestyles. The most susceptible persons to COVID-19 are those with weakened immune systems and poor fitness lifestyles. Yet, the gym facilities and personnel that can help to correct these national concerns and be proactive in the healing and preventative health of the Bahamian people have been forced to close; first ones to close and the last to open.”

Bastian’s sentiments are echoed throughout the bodybuilding and fitness community. In addition to the health concerns, gyms and fitness facilities are also used as outlets for athletes training for competitions in various sports and also as a means for the average person to get away from the stresses of everyday life. In July, they were allowed to reopen under strict COVID-19 protocols and guidelines. Persons utilizing the facilities had to get their temperatures checked at the door, utilize sanitization stations, wear masks when not working out on the various equipment and engage in social distancing practices.

Gym owners and operators were required to update signage as it relates to COVID-19, enforce mask requirements, space equipment appropriately, open floor views to enable the staff to observe all members and police the protocols, and limited clients based on square footage of the facility, among other measures.

“Each gym facility is different, each focusing on a specific market or clientele and providing the landscape, programs, equipment and trainers required to successfully cater to the members,” said Bastian. “The closure of gym facilities deny persons who need specialized wellness programs from advancing in their exercise prescriptions – persons who have diabetes, hypertension, obesity, some kind of physical limitation or disability or need pre- or post-operational therapy. These persons cannot run the beach or walk the streets – they need the specialized equipment and qualified trainers that the gyms provide. Not to mention, the gym atmosphere provides an avenue for persons who have anxiety, addictive, depression or stress-related issues.”

Bastian said that gyms have catered to a cross section of individuals in today’s society, particularly developing, collegiate and elite athletes from various sports who utilize the facilities to train and prepare for upcoming seasons. He said, collectively, they have sent letters and made calls to government and health officials, requesting a meeting in hopes that their facilities could be fully inspected, proving to the relevant authorities that they are adhering to COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, but to no avail.

“The Bahamas is one the of this region’s leaders in many of the various sporting disciplines and as gym owners, we need to be able to support all of our national teams and athletes,” he said. “Apart from the athletes and clients suffering, the rent, utilities and maintenance bills have not stopped, employees cannot be paid and their families are affected, and gym owners have not been given any type of stimulus package for financial assistance. Hence, many may have to close their doors for good. At this junction, whereas businesses that propose a much higher risk in terms of crowding, lack of sanitation or COVID-19 protocol monitoring, have no benefits of improving health, have been allowed to open, we ask why, in spite of all the efforts made, have our gym facilities still been denied opening?”

Bastian said that their plea is not political nor do they intend to undermine the relevant authority.

“When decisions are being made that affect various businesses and industries, key persons from those areas should be invited to meet and help to consult and advise the leaders on how best things can be done,” he said. “Understand that these businesses are our life savings investments and the health of a nation is the wealth of a nation and not only do gyms play a vital part to this equation, but gym owners contribute to the local economy and our athletes have taken The Bahamas to the world. We have followed all instructions, complied to the protocols, respected our leaders, but the question is, is anyone out there listening or even concerned about us,” he asked.

The country is gradually opening back up, but there is no telling when gyms and fitness facilities will be allowed to reopen, as COVID-19 cases continue to mount on a daily basis, particularly on the capital island of New Providence. In addition to gyms, restaurants (with the exception of delivery, curbside service and outdoor dining), bars, cinemas and cultural and entertainment facilities are to remain closed. Additionally, sporting competitions and activities are prohibited during this time.

The Bahamas has the fifth-highest total of coronavirus cases in the Caribbean region – 2,546, and there are 58 deaths up to press time. Caribbean sister country Jamaica, has more total cases but less deaths – 3,103 and 33 up to press time.

Globally, there are over 27 million cases of the novel coronavirus and almost 900,000 deaths up to press time.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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