Ontario fitness industry urges members to pressure Ford government to allow gyms to reopen

Goodlife Fitness is urging its members to pressure the Ontario government to allow gyms to reopen in parts of the province where they’ve been forced to close because of rising COVID-19 cases.

In an email sent to members across the province Tuesday, the fitness giant is encouraging its members to write a letter to their local MPP, Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott among others.

“Between mandated shutdowns, capacity restrictions, and ongoing questions about the safety of fitness facilities, our industry is facing the most difficult time in its history,” the email reads.

Jason Sheridan, senior vice-president of operations at Goodlife, said the email was sent to more than 175,000 members.

The campaign is led by the Fitness Industry Council of Canada. Other businesses who are part of the industry council will also take part.

“Through this campaign … we are keen to advance the discussions with the Ontario government and public health and to help co-create any enhanced guidelines for gyms across Ontario,” Sheridan told the Star.

“We are open to navigating this situation together and working to develop solutions that would allow us to continue to invest in the health and wellness of Ontarians.”

The letter, sent with the subject line “Stand Up for Fitness,” discusses the impact the shutdown has had on the province’s fitness industry, citing the benefits of physical benefits on mental health during the pandemic and reducing the strain on local health-care systems as a result.

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On Oct. 9 Ford ordered the closure of all gyms in Ottawa and parts of the GTA, effective the next day.

In a media briefing on Wednesday, Elliott said that public-health doctors have warned that gyms are a place of transmission. An outbreak at Hamilton spin studio SpinCo has led to at least 85 infections.

“No one wants to get these fitness centres opened up more than I do … you have no idea how hard I’m pushing to get things opened up,” said Ford in the briefing on Wednesday.

In Quebec, a group of fitness centre owners says its members are no longer planning to open Thursday in defiance of that government’s lockdown orders.

On Monday, a coalition of more than 250 gym owners threatened to open their doors this week, prompting a warning from Premier Francois Legault that they and their clients would be fined.

Gym owners in Ontario have not gone that far, but are still heated over the impact from the temporary closure.

The office of Lisa MacLeod, Ontario minister of heritage, sport and tourism, acknowledges the struggles the fitness industry is going through but says the government will continue to follow public-health advice.

“Th is is a difficult time for so many businesses that are already struggling, which is why we are working hard to make $300 million available as soon as possible to cover fixed costs,” minister spokesperson Dakota Brasier said.

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“We will continue to take prudent and progressive action to reopen based on expert public health advice as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Sweat and Tonic, a Toronto boutique fitness studio is part of an online petition in collaboration with the Ontario Independent Fitness Studios Association and 300 other businesses to advocate for the reopening of fitness studios.

Morgan Thomas, general manager at Sweat and Tonic, says it operates very similar to a dance studio, an indoor space which was allowed stay open during the modified Stage 2.

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“We’ve invested a lot of time and resources to be able to open the first time, so it’s frustrating,” Thomas said. “It’s not just physical health, this is very much about mental health, this pandemic has brought up anxiety and stress, we’ve had a lot of community members say being able to move and sweat has been a great opportunity to release some of that.”

For fitness businesses wondering what will happen once the 28 days of modified Stage 2 is over, Mayor John Tory has promised a plan along with the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen De Villa and Toronto Public Health.

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“As we have been saying, a healthy economy requires healthy people, but for that matter, healthy people also require a healthy economy. There is a tough balance between reopening the city and having restrictions in place,” Tory tweeted.

With files from Ann Marie Elpa and The Canadian Press

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