The real impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit home when news broke out that an Italian tourist who was suspected for the virus stayed in a Male’ City hotel on 1st and 2nd March 2020. On returning to Italy, it was reported that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Gym members had been flocking in with renewed New Year resolutions for 2020. Gyms were getting livelier as people settled into their routines. This was, however, not to last.
On 11 March, the WHO declared Coronavirus COVID-19, a pandemic. The following day on 12th March, the Maldivian government declared a National Health Emergency. The directives of the National Health Protection Agency went into full force within a consolidated National Emergency Authority of Maldives.
Fitness centers looked on with trepidation. Identifying infected persons, contact tracing, isolation, mandatory quarantine, social distancing and lockdowns were all new concepts that rapidly started taking root in the minds of gym goers. Motivation rapidly morphed into caution.
The focus of owners was immediately directed towards upgrading existing cleaning procedures. The new normal in hygiene became about protecting members from catching COVID-19. The first two weeks of March were a steep learning curve for the budding domestic fitness industry.
On 15th March, several fitness club owners called each other to share their concerns, and a meeting was arranged. Eleven fitness centers in the Greater Male’ area sat down on 16th March to discuss if gyms should be closed or stay open until directed otherwise by the government. A consensus was reached to close proactively.
One industry leader estimate 9,000 fitness club memberships will come to a standstill. This membership is spread out between 30 or so gyms and 15 or so outdoor groups and group fitness studios. It is predicted that 300 or more trainers will be out of work.
There also emerged a motion at this meeting that fitness centers needed to stick together, and the time had come to form an association.
Unlike most countries, fitness clubs and gyms in the Maldives do not have a formal registration procedure mandated by law. Gyms are not regulated. Fitness center owners were therefore concerned that the plight of fitness centers will go unrecognized in a post-coronavirus environment of social, health and economic hardship.
Fitness center owners appointed a three-member interim committee to act on their behalf with immediate effect. The mandate of this interim committee was to seek government assistance and expedite the procedures to register an association.
On 19th March 2020, this interim committee met with government leadership, who assured the inclusion of fitness centers in their list of businesses eligible for assistance under the recently unveiled MVR 2.5 billion stimulus package. At the time of writing, 29 fitness centers have registered. The need for a representative association appears to be getting broad acceptance.
As of today, Male’ City is virtually locked down. Schools and public spaces are closed. Food outlets have been ordered to limit their business to takeaway/delivery until further notice. The message is simple: stay at home and wash your hands.
Regular gym goers will miss their workouts. It is almost a week since Gyms closed from 17 March. Exercising at home or the occasional jog seem to be the only options in Male’ now. The government is urging people to stay at home, restrict our movements and practice social distancing as the country grinds to a halt for at least the next two weeks.
In the meantime, despite the stressful circumstances, there is a budding initiative by fitness professionals to reach out to the public through local broadcaster PSM during this phase.
Despite disastrous news of the pandemic globally, Maldives appears to be doing surprisingly well, with timely social distancing measures to flatten the curve and avoid overloading the healthcare system. Capitalizing on this narrow window of time, a public-private partnership must evolve. We must learn to manage contagion.
Gyms may reopen; However bleak, it may seem now, if the present data holds, it is hoped that fitness centers may be able to open our doors in early to mid-April. This optimistic view is based on the absence of any evidence of community transmission to date. The fact that not a single person had died and not a single Maldivian has tested positive further shape this optimistic view.
Maldives as a country is currently under lockdown. We have for the time being restricted travel and contact between the resort islands and all other island communities. Only one resort remains at Alert Level Orange (3) while the rest of the country remains at Alert Level Yellow (2). The situation appears stable.
That fitness centers can resume must be good news for club owners and members alike. While many countries have closed their gyms and fitness centers, a few countries like Singapore and Australia report to have most of their gyms open.
Stay safe and stay fit.