Gym and fitness studio closures needed to 'eliminate risk' of Covid-19 clusters forming, say experts

In March last year, two gyms in Singapore were visited by Covid cases. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Medical experts said that the decision to close indoor gyms and fitness studios is timely after stricter measures were announced to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community on Tuesday (May 4).

Such fitness facilities will be closed and mass participation events will be suspended from May 8 to May 30 to minimise the potential for large Covid-19 cluster formations, said the multi-ministry task force (MTF) tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from the Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, said that the closed setting of gyms and fitness studios presents a higher risk of virus transmission.

"We have seen more data that shows the risk of indoor transmission is much higher than outdoors. In our gyms and fitness studios, with the doors closed and people in close proximity, the risk is definitely very high," said Dr Leong.

"There is also the huffing and puffing that take place (when people exercise), which raises the possibilities of transmission in a closed space."

Dr Asok Kurup, who chairs the Academy of Medicine's Chapter of Infectious Disease Physicians agreed, calling gyms and fitness studios a "perfect recipe for disaster".

He said: "Given the background of the latest situation, where we are dealing with a more transmittable strain and a high viral load, we have a situation where it could be a perfect recipe for disaster...

"We already have several open clusters. That is enough of a reason."

Dr Kurup added that he understood the frustrations of some about the closures but urged the community to see it as a measure that will "benefit everyone in the long term".

He said: "The rise (in community cases) is telling and I think the measure is beyond precautionary. It is to eliminate the risk factor and we have to protect ourselves now."

In March last year, two gyms in Singapore were visited by Covid-19 cases.

Both the Safra Punggol gym, which had one individual, who was later identified as Case 138, and the Tanjong Pagar branch of Virgin Active Singapore, which had two unlinked cases in the same week, were closed for cleaning and disinfection.

Neither incident resulted in a cluster forming but a coronavirus outbreak at a Hong Kong gym less than two months ago is a cautionary tale.

The outbreak spread to international schools and other fitness centres, while positive cases also appeared in the banking community just as the city was emerging from a prolonged round of social restrictions and venue closures.

The flare-up was linked to a 27-year-old trainer from Ursus Fitness, a gym in Hong Kong Island's Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood, popular with expatriates. According to a Bloomberg report, the gym had said that five of its staff, as well as a client, also tested positive for Covid-19.

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