Fitness centres in Quebec's COVID-19 'red zones' threaten to reopen, despite province extending restrictions

Such facilities have been closed since Oct. 8, as part of a series of measures imposed by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19 in red zones.

Coalition includes gym and yoga studio owners who say their clients depend on exercise

Those who want gyms and similar facilities to reopen in red zones held a news conference Monday at Pro Gym Montréal. A police cruiser is seen pulling over a driver outside. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A coalition of Quebec gyms, yoga studios and other activity centres is threatening to reopen at the end of the week, even though the province is extending its 28-day partial lockdown.

They've been closed since Oct. 8, as part of a series of measures imposed by the Quebec government to contain the spread of COVID-19.

At a news conference Monday evening, Premier François Legault announced public health restrictions in the province's red zones would be extended by another four weeks.

He said gyms that open in those zones, in defiance of the restrictions, will be met with a police presence and will face fines.

"I understand the mental health is at risk, but right now we have to choose the less worse solution. Gyms will have to respect the law," Legault said.

Owners of fitness facilities say they have spent thousands of dollars to ensure their locations are safe and that their clients depend on exercise to keep physically and mentally healthy.

Studio statement

In a statement issued Monday, the group — which claims to represent more than 200 fitness centres — says they will reopen Oct. 29 regardless of what the government decides.

"All the sanitary measures in force will be respected," the statement said. 

"If the government by then can prove to us, through studies, that we are the source of the outbreak, we will reverse it."

Dan Marino and Christian Ménard, two of the men representing the coalition, both have shared social media posts that provide controversial and misleading information about COVID-19.

Marino has shared posts on his Facebook page that question the effectiveness of masks and minimize the dangers of the novel coronavirus. Ménard has asked people to sign a petition against Quebec's mandatory mask law.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Marino said it would be unacceptable for gyms to stay closed.

"I have heard from too many people who are in distress," said Marino, who owns Mega Fitness Gym in Quebec City. "It's mental and physical health."

Tanya de Montigny owns Idolem yoga studio in Brossard, Que., and says gym closures have had a substantial impact on her clients' mental health. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Dany Laflamme, owner of Nova Gym, a martial arts centre in Quebec City, said customers are calling every day.

"It's truly sad. My customers are my family," he said.

Gyms have been the site of outbreaks in Quebec and neighbouring Ontario. A spin studio in Hamilton has been linked to at least 80 cases

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal hospital, said it's difficult to say what sectors are driving the spread of the virus. 

"It's nobody's fault," she said. "It's a virus. It's very transmissible."

Tremblay said gyms ignoring public health restrictions would set a dangerous precedent.

"If everybody starts saying 'well, I'm going to defy the rules,' then where are we going to be at in terms of a society?"

The coalition says customers want to get back to their favourite gym or studio.

Tanya de Montigny told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that the gym closures have had a substantial impact on her clients' mental health.

She owns the Idolem yoga studio in Brossard, and when she closed her doors yet again earlier this month, she said "I had people leaving my studio crying."

"I had people actually telling me they didn't know how they would end up being able to get through these 28 days without us," she said.

With files from Alison Northcott

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