S'pore's fitness industry bemoans 'lack of clarity' over rules on gym closures, allowed activities

Fitness facilities must not offer weight, strength or resistance training of any form. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - In the days after the Government announced the closure of indoor gyms and fitness studios to curb the spread of Covid-19, some members of the fraternity saw their initial unhappiness at the sudden closures turn to confusion at what they perceived to be a lack of clarity of the measures imposed.

Following that announcement last Tuesday (May 4) and a subsequent advisory from Sport Singapore (SportSG) two days later, the national agency said in an update on Friday that low-intensity physical activities will be allowed to take place at gyms and fitness studios.

While it did not state what these activities were, a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document issued by SportSG a day later pointed out that low-intensity activities which can be done with a mask on at all times are yoga, pilates, stretching exercises and taiji.

Fitness facilities must not offer weight, strength or resistance training of any form, and/or provide equipment for such training as these are associated with strenuous activities.

SportSG also held a virtual townhall last week to engage the fraternity.

But gym owners like Irving Henson, owner and director of The Pit Singapore, have been left "baffled" by some of the rules.

He told The Straits Times: "What many of us want is some consistency and clarity. Rules are changed on an almost daily basis, which is frustrating for most as we can't go ahead with plans. Do we open? Do we close?"

Questioning the logic behind some of the rules, he added: "Gyms can conduct low-intensity training, but you can't lift weights. Once you take your equipment outdoors, no mask is required and you can use equipment. These are just some of many rules that have baffled us."

Ms Daphne Loo, a strength and nutrition coach at Strength Avenue, felt that they "were not given a suitable explanation" for their queries on the measures. She had wanted to know why the use of equipment such as dumbbells and kettlebells with clients was allowed if training was conducted outdoors but not indoors "despite cleaning and sanitising in both settings".

In response to queries from ST, a SportSG spokesman said that examples of low-intensity activities are "non-exhaustive".

The spokesman pointed out that classes may resume if participants and instructors wear their masks throughout the activity and not lower it at any time to catch a breath. Sharing of common equipment such as exercise mats, punching pads, bags, dummies and boxing ring "where fomite transmission risk is high" should be avoided.

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While relief measures have been a welcome announcement for gyms and fitness studios islandwide, these businesses are adapting their business model in their battle to stay afloat.

"We have been working with industry operators and representatives to further review and refine restrictions so that we could narrow down to low-risk activities that could continue safely over the next three weeks. While some will be able to stay open, albeit for modified activities, the refinements are unable to be extended to the whole industry. Operators are encouraged to pivot and adapt to lower-risk activities," added the spokesman.

SportSG is expediting requests for outdoor classes and has received over 1,700 applications and approved more than 95 per cent, said the agency.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force for Covid-19, clarified the reason behind the closures.

He said: "Why did we specifically identify these activities? Because we have seen evidence of spread in other places. We have had infected cases in gyms and fitness centres in Singapore and we have been worried about large clusters potentially breaking out in these settings because it is an enclosed space and people are there often without masks on, spreading a lot of droplets each time they are exercising or shouting or whatever they are doing in the gym.

"The chances of a spread within that environment is very high and that is why we have decided during this period of heightened alert that this is one of the highest risk of activities to stop temporarily."

On Tuesday, SportSG revealed that it has set aside support of up to $18 million under the Sports Resilience Package (SRP) for eligible businesses and self-employed persons affected by the latest Covid-19 guidelines.

While members of the fraternity welcomed the financial help, they are still worried about what lies ahead.

Said Mr John Suriya, 28, a freelance fitness and nutrition coach: "It is a measure put in place to help us out, and that's always appreciated. But it still doesn't detract from the way they initiated a blanket ban, which has obviously affected many personal trainers and their livelihoods. As fitness professionals, we do whatever we can that can help us during this period and hope for good news after May 30."

Mr Henson added: "Of course, there is relief knowing that there is support for us and that we aren't falling through the cracks. Covid-19 is going to be around for a while and a long-term plan based on risk mitigation instead of risk avoidance is needed. We cannot have a plan where it is just close or open businesses."

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