British Columbia

Licence pulled from Delta yoga studio after false COVID-19 claims

The business licence of a hot yoga studio in Delta, B.C., has been suspended after the director encouraged students to continue classes because the novel coronavirus "cannot survive in the heat."

Mak Parhar of Bikram Yoga Delta claimed novel coronavirus 'cannot survive in the heat'

Mak Parhar of Bikram Yoga Delta described COVID-19 as a "supposed virus" in an email to his customers. (fizkes/Shutterstock)

The business licence of a hot yoga studio in Delta, B.C., has been suspended after the director encouraged students to continue classes because the novel coronavirus "cannot survive in the heat."

An email from Mak Parhar of Bikram Yoga Delta thanked clients who were still coming to the studio, where yoga classes are conducted in 40 C heat, and made a number of false claims about COVID-19.

"Fact — this supposed virus cannot survive in the heat," Parhar wrote. "Fact — Bikram yoga is the best way to keep your immune system healthy and/or the best way to build and improve your immune system to fight flus, colds, bacteria and viruses."

Neither of those statements is a fact, according to medical experts.

Hugh Davies, Delta's manager of property use and compliance, said the city received numerous complaints about Parhar's comments.

A bylaw inspector then visited the studio, located in the 8800 block of 120th Street, and found a class in progress.

"The owner indicated he was planning to hold another class later in the day and was not prepared to voluntarily comply with a request to cancel classes in light of the state of emergency related to the spread of a potentially deadly virus," Davies said in an email.

As a result, Mayor George Harvie ordered the studio's licence be suspended.

The City of Delta says it received numerous complaints about Mak Parhar's claims surrounding COVID-19. (Google Maps)

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed Parhar's claims at her daily COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, making it clear there is no truth to them.

"Yoga studios are places where people are sweating next to each other — at least the ones I go to — and that is a perfect environment to spread this virus," Henry said.

"It's probably a misinterpretation of the fact that respiratory viruses like influenza, like some of the other coronaviruses that we've seen, tend to fade away when it gets warmer and we have increased amounts of ultraviolet light during the spring and summertime."

While there's hope that might be true of the novel coronavirus, Henry said that's yet to be seen.

Dr. Henry accused of 'fearmongering'

Parhar told CBC he no longer believes the heat of his yoga studio will kill the coronavirus, but he hasn't retracted his claim that Bikram yoga helps prevent viral illnesses.

In an interview before his licence was suspended, he said that he believes Henry is "fear-mongering" about the severity of COVID-19.

"Everybody I've talked to — hundreds of people — nobody actually knows anybody that has the coronavirus, so I think Dr. Bonnie Henry is being irresponsible and spreading a lot of fear," he said.

To date, eight people in B.C. and more than 10,000 around the world have died of COVID-19, and health officials at all levels have described the pandemic as an extraordinary global threat.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that measures like travel restrictions, social distancing protocols and business closures may need to be in place for weeks or even months to contain the virus.

Officials at the City of Delta have yet to respond to requests for comment.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

With files from Paisley Woodward