A week is a long time for the virus! Forecasting COVID 19 has proven to be a failure of historic proportions. We ourselves must now revisit our initial reopening date of 28 March. A readjusted date of mid-April appears more realistic at best, but these are uncertain times.
COVID 19 PANDEMIC IN CONTEXT
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih met the press on Wednesday, 25 March. He explained our situation with respect to the ongoing global devastation.
The Maldives appears to have sidestepped the direct path of this fast spreading virus. We feel relatively safe for the time being; the virus seems ‘contained’. Though we remain in relative safety in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the country is locked down and on a knife’s edge! This is a global pandemic and external pressures will mount.
Despite massive global impact, the data has held up in the Maldives. However, we have crossed a line this Friday (27 March) : the first Maldivian to test positive within the country was identified. This was also an ‘imported’ case. Right now, there are 16 positive cases, with 11 people having actually recovered. More importantly for the fitness community, there is no evidence of contact tracing that has led to a gym-goer, unlike in Singapore . However, these may no longer be valid benchmarks.
Early action; The President said the government went into early action on 6 January 2020. This is a week after China informed the WHO that an unknown virus has spilled over to humans. The WHO declared COVID 19 a pandemic two months later, on 11 March, with Maldives declaring a State of Health Emergency the very next day. Our fitness community reached a consensus to proactively close gyms from 17 March. Gyms worldwide started closing mid-March. Australia is fast closing their gyms this week. Singapore appears to be a rare country with gyms partly open, but under strict new guidelines.
Health experts; President Solih emphasized that the government was acting on the advice of local and international public health experts. He was hopeful of partial or full return to a more normal life within the next 3 to 6 months. The social and economic constraints gyms must endure in the immediate future is yet to be envisaged.
Shutdown extended: The government extended shutdown by an additional week, with the new reopening date set for Sunday, 5 April 2020. The Health Emergency window expires a week later on 12 April 2020. Even if the data holds up, it is prudent to believe that this lockdown window may be extended an additional week. Maldivian ports of entry went into total lockdown on 27 March. The earliest we hope to open still appears to be mid-April.
Hopeful: The President was hopeful that business will pick up in the last quarter of 2020, and hold throughout the first quarter of 2021 before settling into a semblance of normalcy. This is a bright picture in these bleak times. However, he emphasized this is only possible with sacrifices NOW. Time is the most expensive commodity. The message is to stay home and follow HPA advice.
BUSINESS OF REOPENING GYMS
The business of reopening gyms is fraught with challenges.
Assistance: President Solih reiterated that the government’s stimulus package of MVR 2.5 billion will be operational next week. 26 gym businesses have already registered through the newly initiated community of fitness clubs.
Wish to reopen: While gyms wish to re-open, it is likely that we will face stiff standards of hygiene and physical distancing to obtain a permit to operate in these risky times. Despite the hopeful data, the country is on edge due to the risk of community transmission.
Physical distancing & testing: According to the WHO, the best strategies right now amount to physical distancing as a defensive measure, and strategic testing as an offensive measure. Testing within the country remains low, at around 700 for a population of half a million. Another small country, Iceland, gives interesting data on the upside of testing and how that could provide some amount of “normalcy” in the immediate future. This is necessary for fitness centers to survive.
Economic impact: As we move into early April, the country is in virtual lockdown. Job loss and debts must be mitigated. Fitness clubs will be hit hard. In addition to the financial vows, mitigating measures in place such as physical distancing will restrict fitness activity as we have known it. The government has stepped in with a stimulus package, with guaranteed inclusion for registered fitness businesses. This credit facility was announced to be accessible this week. Given the scale of displacement, MVR 2.5 billion may not amount to much.
Mitigating a post-coronavirus environment: Searching for countries maintaining some semblance of social life with fitness clubs open may be impossible to find in following weeks. The trend now is online fitness.
We are a country in the midst of a global pandemic. While the data shows reduced internal threat, additional pressure will mount if or when India, Africa and Indonesia peak. Forecasting COVID 19 has been a disaster.
Scientific research on COVID 19 is ongoing. While vaccines are estimated to be publicly available around middle of next year, advances in treatments are also being sought. Meanwhile, strategic testing, contact tracing and isolation are the offensive strategies recommended by the WHO.
This is a time of contagion, therefore it is prudent for the fitness community to exercise caution. As we enter a post-Coronavirus environment, we anticipate a changed world with a very different set of circumstances. The fitness industry is likely to undergo a massive paradigm shift.
The management, staff and clients of fitness centers will have to follow strict guidelines. A totally new set of hygiene and client management regulations are to be expected. Along with these must come a well informed and creative mindset!
Stay Safe and Stay Fit.