Gym owners accuse Quebec of ignoring them

QUEBEC CITY — An association representing gym owners accuses the government of ignoring them as it tries to establish a dialogue to find a way to open fitness centers safely.






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“It’s not just answers that are not satisfactory, denounces Gabriel Hardy, spokesperson for Quebec for the Canadian Council of the Fitness Industry (CCICP). It’s really: no answer, no listening, no exchange.

Mr. Hardy says he had meetings with the government in November 2020 and discussed the future of the industry in times of the pandemic and possible solutions. “We could see that we would not get out of it easily [de la pandémie]. We had made proposals that went in that direction. We had plenty of avenues to help the industry get through. None of these proposals has been recognized.”

The CCICP spokesperson, who is also the owner of Le Chalet gym in Quebec, says the government has been turning a deaf ear ever since. “Despite the fact that we sent letters, that we communicated regularly, not only with public health, but the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Labor, the Deputy Ministry of Sport.”

The lack of openness is such that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) decided to intervene by sending a letter to the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, to draw the attention of the government. The communication sent Tuesday by e-mail would still not have obtained a response, says Francis Bérubé, senior policy analyst at the CFIB.

The questions from the fitness industry are “legitimate,” says Bérubé. He points out that industry representatives have put forward “innovative” proposals that would not have received responses. “Considering the little feedback we are currently receiving, we thought it appropriate to write a joint letter.”

Mr. Bérubé notes that fitness centers arrive between “two chairs”. The tourism sector, also shaken by the pandemic, can exchange with the Ministry of Tourism, gives the analyst as an example. “Fitness centers affect a bit of everything. It affects health, it affects the economy, it affects sport.

It was not possible to obtain a reaction from the Ministry of Health, which we contacted in the morning.

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Prime Minister François Legault said Tuesday that the reopening of gyms would happen during a “third stage”, after the reopening of restaurants and performance halls. No date has been advanced.

Until then, gym owners are stretched thin after having been closed for 14 of the past 22 months, Mr Hardy worries. The owners would have accumulated between $75,000 and $80,000 in debt on average, according to an internal survey.

Ways to open

By working with the fitness industry, Mr. Hardy believes it is possible to find a satisfactory compromise to limit the spread of the virus and allow reopening.

He cites British Columbia as an example, where fitness centers have been open since January 20. Working with industry, the government has established strict conditions to allow them to reopen. The vaccination passport is required there, wearing a mask is compulsory when traveling and for coaches. A distance of seven meters between athletes is also required.

British Columbia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Bonnie Henry, thanked the provincial chapter of the CCICP when she announced the reopening of the gyms. These steps have made it possible to reopen with measures that “public health knows and accepts”, judges Mr. Hardy.

Not that easy

However, the reopening of fitness centers is not so simple for the government, believes Roxane Borgès Da Silva, professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal (ESPUM). “With a more contagious variant, you would expect there to be a much higher risk of having outbreaks in a gym.”

While it may seem contradictory to reopen restaurants before fitness centers, the decision can be justified, according to her. “Contamination is by aerosol. When we play sports, we are out of breath and we expel a lot more aerosol than when we are in a seated restaurant.

Mr. Hardy believes that public health experts would be able to see that fitness centers are healthy environments if they visited the facilities. “Have you come to visit our circles to look at what you see as dangerous? Where are the massive outbreak statistics in gyms compared to movie theaters or performance halls? There is no exchange, we do not know what they are based on, but, for that, it takes a dialogue.

Stephane Rolland, The Canadian Press

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