Reclassify gym, fitness industry as an essential service, Fitness Coalition urges govt

Alonzo Osche

The Malaysian Fitness Coalition – a loose coalition of private gym owners and operators throughout Malaysia – urges the government to reclassify the gym and fitness industry as an essential service, and prioritise the reopening of the sector at the earliest possible opportunity.

As the nation continues to grapple with the consequences of the pandemic, much has been said and written about the immense financial burden on the rakyat, employers and employees alike, as well as government spending.

The pandemic also shines a light on the alarming increase in stress and mental health woes, and a long-standing issue among the Malaysian population – the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes, which are alarmingly among the main contributors to the high number of daily Covid-19 deaths.

Over the last few months, while many other sectors which have unintentionally contributed to a growing number of Covid-19 clusters in Malaysia were allowed to continue operating – the one economic sector which has not only the lowest on-site transmission rates, produced zero Covid-19 clusters yet is able to positively contribute to the nation’s fight against Covid-19 and reduce the burden on national healthcare spend in the long haul – has remained sidelined.

The benefits of exercise and physical activity are well documented. Also, as vaccination campaigns are rolled out around the world including in Malaysia, new evidence such as a recent study by Glasgow Caledonian University shows that a person who is active is 50{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} more likely to have higher antibodies after a vaccine, compared to someone who is sedentary. Being physically active strengthens the immune system, reduces the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious disease by more than a third.

Scientists predict the most likely scenario in the coming years is that Covid-19 will be like other infectious diseases that will need to be continuously managed – something our very own Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham himself has said. As such, the Coalition firmly believes that the gym and fitness industry is part of the solution in the nation’s fight against Covid-19 and indeed, the long-term wellbeing of the Malaysian population.

Gyms and fitness facilities have among the strictest SOPs, and the lowest transmission rates by far in comparison with many other sectors. We have consistently proven our ability to control crowds and maintain social distancing through our respective booking and visitation management procedures.

In fact, a recent survey among 254 of our industry peers showed only one reported on-site transmission for every circa 2.85 million visits – proof that if all SOPs are adhered to by everyone involved, gyms are a safe place to work out in.

The survey was conducted last month and completed by 254 owners and operators of boutique fitness, yoga studios, mixed martial arts studios, CrossFit gyms, multi-national chain operators, franchise owners, individual personal training studios, and climbing gyms, among others, from 11 states and two Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur & Putrajaya).

The findings showed that:

– Since the first MCO in March last year, our respondents estimate revenue losses in excess of

RM110mil.

– Notwithstanding, they also collectively spent more than RM4.5mil on sanitising, cleaning services and provision of other hygiene needs in their respective commitment to mitigate Covid-19 risk on their premises.

– 87{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} of respondents have seen their employees’ monthly gross income decline since MCO 1.0.

Of that number, half say that incomes have dropped by more than 40{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454}.

– Cash reserves will be completely depleted soon, with 41{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} of respondents saying that they would run out of cash for salaries, rent, and utilities within 30 days.

– 30{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} of respondents have already laid off staff between MCO 2.0 and MCO 3.0.

– More than 60{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} say they are very likely to lay off more staff if the restrictions on gyms and other fitness facilities continue. Of that number, one third said they were likely to lay off more than 30{20335960d828ac45ef5fde98a5aa7f4c1fb21de0715bafc997f46433d5bf3454} of their remaining workforce.

The Coalition also believes that the gym and fitness industry cannot be lumped together with the recreational sporting sector. We are an economic sector on our own. We are a critical component in a supply chain, which includes towel suppliers, cleaning vendors, fitness equipment suppliers, and more recently, sanitisation services, all of whom have already suffered dire consequences as a result of gym closures throughout the various MCO periods.

On behalf of private gym owners and fitness facility operators in Malaysia, the Coalition urges the government to allow us to reopen.

By letting us reopen, not only do you help us safeguard the sustainability of the fitness industry and prevent more job losses, but you also give us an opportunity to help you protect the rakyat by doing what we do best.

Let us help by providing an avenue for our members and customers to benefit from the protective efforts of regular physical activity, enjoy better quality of life, and in the long run, drive the country’s economic stability.

Malaysian Fitness Coalition

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