Fitness Australia calls for gyms to open in regional Victoria.

In a nod to the AFL finals, last weekend Premier Dan Andrews used a football analogy when exhorting Victorians to “dig deep” and “see the game through to the final siren” in an attempt to refocus the state on achieving the government defined lockdown release triggers.

However, these analogies are not confined just to the AFL with many sports sharing similar clichés such as “if the team is not performing change the game plan”. As the numbers in Victoria are stubbornly plateauing maybe it is indeed time to change the strategy, especially in regional Victoria.

Regional Victoria is currently in Third Step Restrictions, which prohibits indoor gyms and fitness facilities from opening but allows cafes, restaurants, beauty and personal care businesses to open. This is despite there been no cases of community transmission for many weeks, even months in most areas and no hard evidence to show that gyms are a high-risk environment.

Currently across all regional Victoria, there is only two local government councils with any active COVID cases over the past 14-day period – Mitchelton and Greater Shepparton. In fact, more than 20 councils have not reported more than five cases since the pandemic began.

This puts the rolling average for region Victoria at a low 0.6 will no unknown cases.

Time to get regional Victoria open

Over recent months, Fitness Australia has worked with authorities in every other Australian state and territory to implement robust COVID-Safe protocols and frameworks to ensure fitness facilities can reopen as a safe environment and give people the confidence and peace of mind to resume their regular exercise routine.

Let’s not forget that, unlike any other sector, fitness facilities have the ability in the unlikely event of a member attending gym with COVID, to advise relevant health authorities within an hour of the names and contact details of every other person in the facility at the time and following the visitation period.

It is not just this unique contact tracing capabilities that justify why regional gyms should be open, with recent research commissioned by Fitness Australia demonstrating:

  • 62% of Victorians rated going to the gym or their local fitness studio as their top three most missed activity
  • 1 in 3 have experienced a decreased sense of connection as a direct result of gym closures while 20% experienced feelings of depression
  • A number of negative impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing including: Muscle loss (51%), physical weight gain (50%), a decreased overall sense of wellbeing (47%), increased stress/anxiety levels (42%) and stamina loss (37%)
  • 54% have experienced a decrease in the motivation to exercise during lockdown
  • Prior to the lockdown period 89% of members exercised at least 3 times a week. During lockdown this fell to 70%
  • An impacted feeling of safety when exercising outdoors, particularly amongst shift workers:
    • 20% of the sample were shift workers who said the gym offered a safe and secure environment gyms compared to training outdoors
    • A significant decrease in the frequency of exercise versus before the COVID lockdown period

Although the above data clearly demonstrates the need for gyms to reopen for the community’s physical and mental wellbeing, there are also other compelling reasons that are and will continue to impact the Victorian economy and livelihoods of thousands of business owners, their staff and their families.

There are over 1,500 fitness facilities in Victoria – ranging in program scope from small Yoga, Dance or Pilates studios to large Council-run leisure centres. These facilities are primarily small businesses and represent a life’s work and investment for their owners. Through the supply chain these small businesses employ almost 40,000 Victorians and provide essential services for more than 900,000 community members.

To date there has been no justifiable explanation as to why regional fitness facilities cannot open now.

Is it time to change the game plan?