• Chloe Reynolds

Fitness around the world - how gyms outside of the UK are re-opening after the pandemic

Here in the UK, the doors of gyms remain firmly locked for another few weeks at least, however many other countries at different stages of the pandemic have started returning in part or full to working out in clubs. In this post I’ll be looking into the situation in 3 different countries; China (where the pandemic originated and the country that was first to lock down), New Zealand (now COVID free and on alert level 1) and South Africa (about to reopen). This info is correct as of the time of writing (mid-June 2020) and has been collected from news reports, club websites and social media posts from instructors living in these countries.


First, let’s take a look at China; the country where this disease began and the first location to shut down. Gyms in China first closed in early January and began to open again at the beginning of April. However, by the end of the month they were closed again due to fears of a second spike of Coronavirus. Although the Chinese are the furthest ahead in the pandemic, there are still some measures in place for the fitness industry there. Currently only gyms above ground level are allowed open, as they can get natural air into the building instead of relying on air conditioning. Gyms are subject to three spot checks a day and have to members are still encouraged to keep 2m social distance. Each member’s name and contacts are taken at the door to help with contact tracing. Anyone entering the gym is required to wear a mask whilst training and there have been additional cleaning measures implemented. Although I have seen some images on social media of group fitness classes taking place again in China, with participants all wearing masks and socially distancing, I cannot find any statistics or news reports to confirm what the current procedures are.


Despite the months of uncertainty, the Chinese are optimistic about the future of the industry. According to CGTN, China is focusing on ‘transforming itself into a leading sporting power.’ The Chinese clearly place great importance on their population being healthy, as being healthy can help their country develop faster with fewer sick days and a more productive workforce. The big developments in online fitness will hopefully bring more jobs to the industry, not just in coaching and fitness instruction but in technology and video production, to meet the demands of the online boom.


Image credit: Huffington Post


Now let’s look at the situation in New Zealand. The kiwis were the first country to announce themselves Coronavirus free on June 8th. They went into lockdown on March 25th, two days after the UK, but they had a significantly lower transmission rate and death toll than the UK at this time; it’s peak recorded daily cases was 89 opposed to 6,201 in the UK. Les Mills reopened the doors to their gyms on May 15th and City Fitness on the 18th, when the country entered level 2 of the Coronavirus response. At this point there was still social distancing of 2m in place and numbers allowed in the club at any one time were limited. At Les Mills, members could show up whenever but had to queue if maximum capacity had been reached, but City Fitness asked members to book a 1 hr 15 min slot to come in for their session. Both chains encouraged members to bring their own full water bottles, towels, and mats to use and shut off their air conditioning, sauna and water fountains. By coming back into the clubs, members were opted in to participate in the government’s Coronavirus tracing scheme.


In terms of group fitness, Les Mills had limits on the number of people attending classes to 50% of normal, with marked out grids to ensure social distancing. Their usual timetables were altered to mainly include 45 min classes with a 15 min turnaround to give time for the equipment to be deep cleaned. The country entered level 1 on June 8th. For Les Mills gyms, all social distancing measures were removed, and classes and gym operations were allowed to resume as normal.


Image credit: Les Mills


Finally, let’s turn to South Africa. They began their lockdown at a very similar time to the UK, towards the end of March. On June 1st the country entered level 3 of restrictions, to the criticism of many as their daily death toll is still on the rise. At this level gyms are still not open, but very extensive plan have already been put in place for reopen, as outlined in this article by Business Insider. The South African government have been keen to limit the economic impact of the lockdown, so I’d imagine that the fitness and hospitality industries in the country will get moving around the same time as the UK. Virgin Active gyms in South Africa will be asking members to book sessions on their app to ensure there is good social distancing, giving each member 10m2 in the club to themselves. Members will also have to confirm that they have never had Coronavirus, or if they have previously tested positive, two negative tests will be required before re-entry to the club is allowed. Members won’t be allowed to bring their own gym towel or yoga mat for risk of outside contamination, in opposition to the policy being seen in Les Mills gyms in New Zealand. All staff will be required to wear masks, but members will only have to wear masks if the government introduces this policy. As the staff will be in closer contact with each other than members I can see the logic behind this but I feel the same level of protection should be implemented as in China; no mask, no workout. As with New Zealand’s level 2 restrictions, class sizes will be reduced to 50% of pre-lockdown capacities when SA re-opens it’s gyms, and members will have a marked out grid to work out in, which other countries have demonstrated works well. Virgin gyms are also implementing a “weight drop” zone where members will place their equipment after use for staff to clean. This is an interesting policy which is great for protecting members but perhaps places staff at an additional risk.


Image credit: Virgin Active


So, what can we see from the patterns across three countries at different stages of the pandemic? In each most countries, the fitness industry was/will be one of the last to reopen. Indoor fitness facilities are an easy place to spread germs due to heavy breathing and sweat, we all know this, but it is encouraging to see from other countries that this hasn’t put many people off returning to the gym. Data coming out of Italy, Namibia and Botswana showed that between 40-50% of members had returned to the gym. There are similarities between the approach of each country - good social distancing, temperature checks, no shared equipment and reduced class sizes – but also some marked differences. Every day we are getting a clearer vision of what the UK fitness industry will look like after lockdown and how we may eventually get back to “normal” – whatever that will look like!


I’d love to hear your thoughts on what might happen over the next few months. Drop me a DM on Facebook or Instagram @gftcourses or send me an email on chloe@gftcourses.com and let’s get the debate going!


#groupfitnesstraining #groupfitness #groupexercise #coronavirus #pandemic #gym #covidrestrictions #china #southafrica #newzealand #lifeaftercovid

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