An open letter published in The Star on Friday, 11 June 2021, by the Malaysian Fitness Coalition calling for the government to reopen fitness centres and reclassify gyms as an essential service.
The letter has argued that:
– The COVID-19 battle is a long-term uphill battle that has yet to see a silver lining, with 41% of the industry respondents (from 254 industry surveyees) saying that they would run out of cash for salaries, rent and utilities within the next 30 days.
– 87% of respondents reported that their employees’ gross income has declined by more than 40% since MCO 1.0
– 30% of the staffs had been laid off between MCO 2.0 and 3.0
– Gyms have the strictest SOPs and the lowest transmission rates by far with only one reported on-site transmission for every circa 2.85 million visits
– A person who is active is 50% more likely to have higher antibodies after a vaccine, compared to someone who is sedentary (Study published by the Glasgow Caledonian University)
As part of the fitness industry, we strongly support the arguments by the coalition. But before we irresponsibly call for the reclassification of fitness centres as essential services, we would also like to outline the other possibilities that the government and local fitness centres should play in tackling this matter.
Firstly, a steep decline in revenue across the industry is something that has been oversighted by the government which has led to the loss of a permanent income. Blue collar workers were still given the privilege to work from home but it is the polar opposite for fitness instructors. Many might argue that trainers can conduct their fitness training virtually but the pick up rate remains low, hence greatly reducing their income. The government should play an active role in finding alternative sources of income, or push for a full industry for them instead of just turning a blind eye. Personal trainers would not have the financial capacity to drive this transformation by themselves.
Secondly, fitness centres are struggling to pay their rent. Our encounters with gyms have told us that their membership renewal rate has dropped significantly as the public is wary of the transmission. In Singapore, a total of S$7.7 million grant will be provided to more than 500 establishments, in particular gyms and fitness studios, which will receive a one-time disbursement ranging from S$5,000 to S$100,000 for the three-week period in May. This will help them to find a footing again in the fitness industry, or at least a startup capital for a new business venture within the industry. (Source: Today Singapore, 11 May 2021)
Finally, reopen gyms but with tightened SOPs including the auditing of each gym’s set-up. Plastic barriers, distance between equipment, screening of gym goers, total number of visitors per session, personal trainer’s attire and conduct, can be among some of the necessities to break the transmission, with subsidies by the government to procure these items.
The downfall of an industry is a serious matter that should not be overlooked by the government. There are many success stories abroad that can be adapted in Malaysia and we hope that the government and industry players can be proactive in finding a solution instead of keeping mum towards the issue.