On Oct. 26, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that Montreal’s red zone restrictions would be extended until Nov. 23. This, among other things, means that gyms and fitness centres in the Montreal region are to remain closed.
A group called Centres d’activités physiques du Québec, composed of some 200 fitness professionals, stated that they planned to resume operations despite this directive, defying the government restriction. Due to the threat of large fines, however, many have since backed down.
Still, this pushback is necessary for the government to be held accountable for the restrictions it is implementing—specifically, on what basis it is implementing them. There is very little data to support the idea that gyms are unsafe: There have been no recorded COVID-19 outbreaks linked to gyms or fitness centres in Montreal. In fact, a Europe-wide study, commissioned by EuropeActive and conducted by Sheffield Hallam University and Kin Juan Carlos University, found that of the 62 million visits to the gym, there were only 487 reported positive cases, making the average infection rate only 0.78 per cent per 100,000 visits. Another study conducted in the U.S. by the IHRSA and MXM collected data from fitness clubs that opened during the beginning of May, and found that of 49.4 million check-ins, the incidence of COVID-19 cases was 0.002 per cent. According to these studies, the risk of COVID-19 spreading at gyms appears statistically insignificant. The Quebec government’s decision to close gyms, therefore, seems misguided—and ought to be challenged.
As the winter months approach, opportunities for outdoor exercise will dwindle. Days will get darker and colder, and the few outdoor fitness activities people have been able to do will quickly become more difficult. In order to help fight the virus, it is imperative for people’s physical and mental health that they are able to exercise. Many Montrealers are already facing increasing isolation due to red zone restrictions. Many work or study at home, live alone, or are unable to see their friends and family. If they are also not able to exercise, their overall health and well-being will undoubtedly suffer.
Students in particular will suffer if gyms remain closed. McGill students are facing a primarily online fall and winter semester. This means most students spend much of their time sitting at home on their computer, rarely—if ever—on campus or interacting with their peers and professors. Some students live alone, and due to restrictions, do not often leave their homes. If the government is asking them to sacrifice their ability to exercise as well, it must provide sufficient evidence to support that decision.
Aspects of the government’s current strategy, which has Montreal constantly in and out of lockdown, are ineffective, as was pointed out in a leaked report from Montreal’s health authority. Some restrictions, such as those in place for gyms, are implemented without proper evidence to support them and without considering the other effects they may have. This reactionary strategy seems only to take into account overall case numbers. This results in enforced restrictions and closures, some of which, like those on gyms, are not based on evidence and can potentially be detrimental to people’s health and well-being. The government needs to devise a consistent long-term strategy that factors in more than simply the overall number of COVID-19 cases, and consider the effect their restrictions will have on not just case numbers, but also on people’s well-being.
Some of the government’s policies in response to COVID-19 are haphazard at best. Gyms do not appear to pose a significant threat for COVID-19 transmission. People need to try to get back to some semblance of a normal life, as the current approach to tackling the virus strains our overall well-being. In the coming months, gyms are not going to be detrimental to health, but rather essential for it.