'Quite wrong' that Winnipeg city hall gym was open while others closed during lockdown: councillor

The same day Manitobans learned they won't likely be going back to the gym even if the province loosens some pandemic restrictions, a Winnipeg councillor tweeted that the gym at city hall has been open throughout the months-long lockdown.

City of Winnipeg says all gyms used by city employees now closed, except for gyms for first responders

The Body @ Work Wellness Centre at Winnipeg City Hall has been open throughout the months-long lockdown in the province. Councillor Shawn Nason says he won't be going in until gyms are allowed to reopen. (Shawn Nason/Twitter)

The same day Manitobans learned they won't likely be going back to the gym even if the province loosens some pandemic restrictions, a Winnipeg councillor tweeted that the gym at city hall has been open throughout the months-long lockdown — but a spokesperson said now that the city is aware of the issue, it's moving to shut most of its fitness facilities.

The Body @ Work Wellness Centre inside city hall has a maximum capacity of seven people, and city employees are asked to wear masks inside, said Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona). 

"The fact that we still have the ability as the City of Winnipeg to work out is quite wrong," Nason told CBC News.

"My [new year's] resolution was to get back to the gym. I have my gym shoes here, but I have yet to darken the doors of that location until the public is also able to get back and get fit."

City hall isn't breaking public health orders, nor was it given express permission to stay open, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"Our public health orders don't apply to any levels of government, so they don't apply to federal, provincial or municipal governments," he said.

Signs on the door of Body @ Work Wellness Centre at City Hall indicate a number of rules for people who want to exercise there in order to be safe during the pandemic. (Shawn Nason/Twitter)

In an email sent Tuesday night, a spokesperson said the City of Winnipeg asked the province months ago for clarification on whether its fitness facilities could stay open for city employees only. The province indicated that was allowed, said David Driedger, the city's manager of corporate communications.

"However, prior to today, we were not aware that this exemption was granted to us solely by virtue that we are a municipal government," Driedger's email said.

The city was operating facilities in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg police stations, and six others at various workplaces, including facilities located at city hall and down the street at 457 Main.

"Effective immediately, we are closing all employee fitness facilities with the exception of those located in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service stations or Winnipeg Police Service stations because mandatory fitness standards are a requirement of first responders' jobs," Driedger said.

"We will also keep the facility open at 457 Main Street but only make it accessible for members of the Winnipeg Police Service."

Nason says he agrees with the decision.

Earlier in the day, personal trainers and gym owners in the city expressed their outrage the gym at city hall was allowed to remain open, especially because the province hasn't indicated gyms will be allowed to reopen as it gradually loosens pandemic restrictions.

"For me, it's shocking," said Helen Salako, a personal trainer at Featbody in Winnipeg.

"I watch the news every day waiting for the restrictions to be lifted and it's a betrayal that other things like personal trainers' studios have to be closed because the city's fitness studio, theirs is open."

Salako said before the lockdown took place, she was working one-on-one with clients, each of whom was wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

Craig Larkins at Riot Cycle isn't happy the gym at city hall has been allowed to stay open. He wants all fitness centres to be allowed to reopen, arguing the onset of colder weather will begin to affect people's physical fitness. (Rachel Bergen/CBC)

Across town at Riot Cycle in South Osborne, owner Craig Larkins says the move by city hall is "ridiculous," considering he's had to be closed for two months.

"There should be no exceptions, and what is the exception? That it's city hall? That it's a government building? Well, that's not really fair. That's kind of a double standard here," he said.

Exercise essential

Salako and Larkins are calling for gyms and personal training studios to be allowed to open.

"It's causing more harm to people if they're not exercising, so I think they should just open up and and put in restrictions," Salako says.

Larkins worries people will be less physically fit with the cold weather setting in, and hopes gyms and fitness centres will be allowed to reopen.

"A lot of people have expressed that gyms need to be opened for that mental health factor. It's not about just opening up a business again anymore. It's about helping people get through these tough times," he said.

Larkins also questions if gyms are proven to be places where virus transmission takes place, citing evidence that recreation and recreation centres were low on the list of sources of COVID-19 spread.

Both say they've taken precautions to ensure everyone at their facilities are safe, and are willing to go further if it means they can open.

"I'll even open at 25 per cent capacity as long as there's a space for people to go and feel good again," Larkins said.

But Roussin hinted there aren't plans to reopen fitness centres right now.

"We constantly hear from Manitobans, from businesses about how safe their operation is, and I certainly don't doubt their efforts and the protocols they have," he said.

"It's just that where were we in October and November? Everyone was doing their best, everyone was committed, but despite that, we saw that dramatic climb in our numbers."


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