13 Oct 2021

Fitness helps fight Covid, but pubs can open before gyms

From Checkpoint, 5:52 pm on 13 October 2021

On Auckland's level 3 roadmap towards level 2, pubs with 50 people inside will be able to open before gyms with physical distancing measures.

On the next step of the level 3 alert system retail stores will be able to reopen doors as well as public pools.

But gyms and yoga studios have to wait until alert level 2. Exercise New Zealand chief executive Richard Beddie told Checkpoint he is asking the government to reconsider the logic of this plan.

Beddie said he believes there is no science behind the decision, and the government is responding to lobby groups. 

"And they're also listening to high profile epidemiologists who just have statements like, 'gyms are unsafe', and it's just not backed by the evidence. We've got really good evidence about how safe it is in the UK with large scale Delta.

"We've also got really good evidence, in fact, [fitness is] the second best thing you can do for your body other than vaccination. 

"So they're just not looking at the science. I don't know what's going on here, but we want them to engage with us."

Beddie said the sweat and heavy breathing that happens in exercise are countered by the controls that gyms put in place. 

"If you just said gyms without controls, then I would agree that there are some risks. But that's why we manage them. So we've got a framework, 25 pages long, about all the things that we do in our industry. It's not developed by the government, it's developed by us with clinical protocol designers with specialty in this area.

"We've had that for more than 18 months now,  so there's really clear, strict protocols. And we're very willing to engage with the government about what additional protocols they might have. Because we know Level 3 is not level 2.

"But it's just ridiculous... we know what will happen [with] an alcohol, they won't be socially distancing, there is no masks involved in drinking...  but we can do masks and exercise. We can distance, in fact we do. So it just makes no logical sense."

Beddie said the Prime Minister was specifically asked about it at the first media conference of the lockdown. "She said, 'I think they're at step 2', and then walked off the stage. And since then has not answered the question. So we're really confused. 

"We have written to ministers twice now. We haven't got a response." 

Covid-19 Response officials he has written to said they do not know the details of what is in level 3 step 2, Beddie said. 

"Normally we're in the the sentence that says 'public facilities. That's pools, museums and libraries. Normally the sentence says, 'pools, gyms, museums and libraries'. 

"We cannot understand why a pool can be opened and a gym cannot. Because they both have a degree of risk."

Beddie said research has shown the value of exercise and fitness in fighting Covid-19. 

"The British Medical Journal to study on this, and they looked at smoking, obesity, diabetes. The number one factor that trumped them all was physical activity.

"And we have a problem in New Zealand because half of New Zealanders don't do enough. 

"Half of New Zealanders are at risk and at the moment, 250,000 Aucklanders get their physical activity from gyms and yoga studios. 

"Now that's a major problem because at the moment we know with physical activity, it drops during lockdowns.

"So we've got a problem, that we are doing something that actually makes hospitalisation more likely and death more likely. 

"That's the environment we're in with Covid. We need to look at how do we reduce hospitalisation. One of those tools is exercise. 

"If I could put it in a pill it would be funded by Pharmac and they'd be giving it out on the street corners."

The number one best thing people can do to fight the virus is to get vaccinated, he said, and the the second is to exercise regularly."