SINGAPORE: Owners of gyms and fitness studios have welcomed news that indoor mask-off activities will be allowed to resume on Jun 21, describing it as a relief after weeks of tightened curbs.
The easing of restrictions was announced on Thursday (Jun 10) as part of Singapore’s plans to enter Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) after a fall in the number of COVID-19 community cases.
This will take place in two phases: Social gathering group sizes will be increased from Jun 14; and if the situation remains under control, other restrictions such as the resumption of dining-in and other higher-risk mask-off activities will be allowed a week later on Jun 21.
Mr Shane Parsons, the co-owner of fitness studio F45 Lower Peirce Reservoir, said the news was a pleasant surprise as he had been “prepared for the worst”.
“We were all feeling kind of lost every time these lockdown restrictions happened. So … at least we feel we're moving in a positive direction again.
“By Jun 21, it'll be over six weeks with nearly zero revenue – that's been tough … Ultimately, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mr Parsons.
Under current tightened measures for Phase Two (Heightened Alert), from May 16 to Jun 13, only low-intensity physical activities are allowed at gyms and fitness studios – with masks on at all times.
READ: Low-intensity physical activities allowed to continue at indoor gyms, fitness studios amid tightened COVID-19 guidelines
That means studios focusing on high-intensity workouts, such as Mr Parson’s, have been unable to operate as per normal.
The same goes for Ritual, a gym chain with four locations in Singapore, which has been operating at 20 per cent of its usual capacity, said its CEO, Mr Brad Robinson.
“For us to be able to edge closer back to our typical business model (of high-intensity workouts) and normalcy was obviously met with happiness across the board.”
Mr Saumik Bera, the director of Real Yoga, added: “I felt like I could breathe (again), because this Phase 2 was like a coma to me, and all of us.”
NEW MEASURES IN PLACE
When indoor mask-off sports activities resume, participants will need to be at least 2m apart from each other.
Indoor and outdoor sports classes can also be held in multiple groups of five – with a cap of 30 people, including the instructor. The groups have to be at least 3m apart.
Businesses CNA spoke to said they are prepared for this, as similar social distancing rules were introduced when Singapore entered Phase 2 last year.
Come Jun 21, employees of such places will also have to be regularly tested for COVID-19, due to the higher-risk settings.
Like other fitness studio owners, Real Yoga’s Mr Bera agreed with the need for this: “We see quite a number of people every day and don’t know who carries what kinds of viruses, so I’m supportive of this - that the frontliners should be responsible to protect society.”
The Government will cover the cost of these tests for the next three months.
Beyond that, employers will have to “start thinking about incorporating these processes as part of their business continuity plans”, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Thursday at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19.
These costs, on top of capacity constraints, will have an impact on business, said F45 Lower Peirce Reservoir’s Mr Parsons. But he added that the studio will do “whatever it takes to keep moving forward”.
Ritual’s Mr Robinson also said: “We’re all for anything that allows our business to get back to pre-pandemic revenue, or as close to it as possible.
“Our cost base has gone up and revenue has gone down so that's obviously a double whammy. But again … you adapt to just survive and move ahead.”
He added that details of the testing regime, including costs, have yet to be revealed.
Ms Yang Jiamin, the founder of Jyan Yoga, suggested that the subsidies should be extended.
“Three months is definitely not enough, considering COVID has been around for a year already and we don’t know when it’s going to go away, or how this is going to be the new norm for us.
“To be more reasonable, probably about six months to a year (of subsidies) would be good.”
Another suggestion from Mr Parson: “If gyms and fitness studios are really considered higher-risk settings, then workers should be prioritised for early vaccination.”
ADAPTING TO PHASE 3 (HEIGHTENED ALERT)
Fitness studios are gearing up to welcome more members, but they do not expect business to bounce back immediately.
Real Yoga’s Mr Bera said he anticipates that “many will still be afraid to come out of the house”. So while there will be more in-person classes, online classes will be kept as a staple.
Jyan Yoga’s Ms Yang is also working on ways to bring members back.
“We are adding new classes to our curriculum to entice people to come down to the studio,” she said, adding that they are also working on new merchandise that will compliment these in-person classes.
Ritual and F45 Lower Peirce Reservoir are also only expecting a gradual return of customers.
Still, an in-person experience is key because it helps cultivate a sense of community – part of the appeal of gyms and fitness studios, said F45’s Mr Parsons.
“After 3m distancing, masks on, and no shared equipment … we can't wait for a day in the future when all of this behind us and our members are giving high-fives after class, freely going off and have dinner and drinks after”.