South Africa’s gyms were only told that they would be limited to 50 members at the ’11th hour’, with the decision not part of the protocols discussed with the government, says Mark Field, managing director Virgin Active South Africa.
Field said in a webinar hosted by Discovery Vitality, that this provision is problematic as the country’s gyms range anywhere from 50 square metres to 5,000 square metres.
“In the first club you would have one person per square metre, which is clearly a transmission risk, and at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got one person per 100 square metres which is frankly irrational.
“So we are working with the government to see if we can get a more straightforward limit on a number of members per square meter which would be more equitable and sensible.”
Field said that Virgin Active is effectively focusing on three key areas as part of the reopening of its gyms.
Screening people to ensure that people with symptoms are not let into the gym;
Enforcing proper social distancing while in the gym. Field said that this would differ based on the type of exercise and layout of the gym;
Proper hygiene standards in the club including sanitisers, disinfectants, increased cleaners and other features.
Field said that certain areas of the gym will also not be open to the public as they are seen as higher risk areas. These include steam rooms and saunas, internet stations, and water fountains.
He said that food and beverage services from outlets such as Kauai will also be limited to takeaways due to the constraints of having a 50-person limit.
Managing the 50 people limit
“We are managing people coming in and out so that we know how many people are in the club. At this point in time, people are easing themselves back into gyms so we are seeing some peak times,” said Field.
He added that international experience shows that members return to gym slowly after lockdown.
Field said that typically about 50% of people come back at first, with numbers rising to about 70% – 80% of membership after a month or so.
“Our big focus for us in the industry at the moment is to get that 50-person cap limited to something that is a number of members per square metre.”
He said that the UK currently has a limit of one member per nine square metres, while Australia has a limit of one member per four square metres.
As it currently stands, Virgin Active’s largest clubs in South Africa have one member per 80 – 100 square metres, he said. “So it is clearly out of sync with what is happening globally, so we just need to lobby hard to get a rational limit set on this.”
In a good space
Planet Fitness chief executive Manny Rivera said that a case could be made that a double-standards are being applied to the country’s gyms when looking at the rules around supermarkets and taxis.
However, he indicated that his group is also in talks with the government and expects the limit on 50 people to be lifted.
He said that Planet Fitness is positive despite the difficult trading environment. “We are quite bullish, we are expanding and creating jobs. We have opened 12 clubs in 15 months and this country is (full of) athletic and gym-crazed people and that’s not going to change.”