Dark days and dark minds – gym owners protest closures under Level 5

Louise Hickey

With a 6-week lockdown in Ireland, gyms have shut to many owner’s and participant’s disapproval.

Just like Ireland’s first lockdown, unessential services are to remain closed during this period. Gyms are causing much debate, with over 40,000 people signing a petition, ran by ‘change.org’ for gyms to be deemed essential.

With mental health rates in Ireland being the worst in Europe, ‘change.org’ cries out that this could be the best hour of someone’s day “where they can clear their head and think straight”.

Exercise is known to release endorphins and therefore improve our mental health and wellbeing. Students are concerned about gym closures, “For a lot of people the gym is the only release they have” said Jordan Finney.

He added, that with the dark weather, not a lot of people are getting out to exercise “by the time everyone finishes work, it’s dark and online classes are too pricey.”

Other students touched on the importance of a break away from studying and college work.

One gym owner in Blanchardstown, Dublin has taken a remarkable stance on the whole situation. Westside gym owner, Simon Murphy, refuses to close his doors during this period.

On the gym’s recent Instagram post, their caption explains this reason “We are saddened that our government has not listened to the voice of the Irish people…Our plan is simple, we plan to stay open” followed by “dark days, dark nights and dark minds”.

Westside gym believe exercise is essential for mental health. This sparked controversy, with some people completely supporting the gym, and continuing to attend, following strict guidelines, whilst other people went completely against this stance, leaving comments such as “Breaking rules = Breaking rules”.

Westside has called on Ireland Active and Minister of State for Sport, Jack Chambers to reconsider their closure on gyms and pool. Other gym owners agree with this approach.

Another Dublin gym owner Eoghan Gallagher of Elev8, Health and Fitness in Blackrock, Co. Dublin is in the same position, and is refusing to close

“We can take some of the pressure off the hospitals. You will not have people struggling with their mental health going into hospitals” said Gallagher.

Small gyms seem to be the ones suffering the most. One gym owner, David Pike, in County Meath said “nobody can give me a straight answer on why I have to close down” and “it’s unfair that the GAA can travel all over the country for games, yet I can’t open my gym for a few locals.”

This is distressing for locals as “it’s the only gym around”. This is the case in many places. “It seems a little bit harsh to close gyms when you see businesses in areas of manufacturing, construction and more are still open” said Greg Kenny, another gym owner in County Cork.

However, some argue that there is no true need for gyms to be opened “you can realistically do your own workout at home…plus people would end up abusing gyms, taking them up as part of their lifestyle when they never were before” said  student Aoife McNulty.

Minister for mental health, Stephen Donnelly is also in favour of leaving gyms closed. On the closing of tennis courts, due to Level 5 guidelines, after much debate, he said “No sports are getting an exemption”.

In the latest report on Covid-19 clusters in Ireland, by the Health Protection Surveillance centre it highlights only nine cluster relating to sport/activity, not specifying whether these outbreaks were caused in gyms.

Looking at other countries and how they handled the opening of gyms, there is a mixed result. South Korea shows a prime example of how easy Covid-19 can spread.

In February, there was an outbreak within a fitness workshop, whereby the instructor then went on to teach 12 more classes. 112 cases amounted from these fitness classes.

Covid-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, with increased heart rate and breathing whilst working out, along with sharing equipment, this makes it difficult for gyms to carry out guidelines.

Now, with more experience and equipment to help us handle the virus, it is argued that gyms which follow close precautions should be able to re-open.

At the end of the first lockdown, and on the reopening of gyms in the UK, out of 8 million gym visits, only 12 positive cases had been caused by attending the gym. This research shows that if gyms do follow strict guidelines and constantly follow up on cases, there is potential of gyms being capable of operating.

Many gyms have announced online classes for the time being. DCU gym has provided a timetable of online classes “to break up your working day”.

The argument between gyms opening and remaining closed, is constantly being debated, but with the petitions ignored and with no sign of action from the government, gyms are remaining shut for now.

Louise Hickey

Image Credit: Danielle Cerullo