A reopening plan that doesn’t allow timely access to fitness and health services is not prioritizing the health of the people of Ontario. Ontario is currently the only jurisdiction in North America that does not permit indoor fitness under its COVID-19-related restrictions, and it is the only province in Canada leaving the re-opening of fitness facilities until the bitter end of its reopening plans.

We’re shocked and frustrated that Ontario political and public health leaders have made the decision, time and again, to ignore the vital role indoor fitness plays in mental and physical health for millions of people in Ontario. Shocked even further that this is happening now despite the number of vaccinated Ontarians having far surpassed the metrics established by the Ontario government to move into step 3. This is an incredibly short-sighted approach to public policy that needs to be revisited if we are going to get Ontario back into shape – physically, mentally and economically – post-pandemic.

Millions of Ontarians are depending on the safe reopening of fitness. Premier Ford, Dr. Williams, Minister Elliott and Minister Macleod have collectively failed to prioritize the right to safely access fitness in Ontario. We are especially frustrated that despite multiple attempts to discuss our position with Dr. Williams he has never once met with us. Together, they have also abandoned the thousands of fitness industry employees who have faced multiple waves of unemployment over the past year — with some having been out of a job since March 2020.

The Ontario government announced that the province would move into Step 2 of the reopening roadmap on June 30, a few days ahead of schedule. Gyms could have reopened safely at Step 2 at 25 per cent capacity, similar to non-essential retail, but they were not included. People in Ontario are now forced to wait until Step 3 to be allowed to workout in a gym or fitness studio, despite the government’s own vaccination-based criteria having already been met.

More than 8,000 GoodLife and Fit4Less employees in Ontario are out of work, 199 clubs are locked, and more than 920,000 members are unable to access services that are vital for their mental and physical health. Across the broader fitness industry in Ontario, not only are each of these figures substantially higher, but the extended closure will serve as a finishing blow to dozens of small, family-owned gyms and studios who had been hanging on by a single thread, if they haven’t been forced out of business already.

Restricting access to facilities for physical activity during the pandemic has eroded the health of people in Ontario. The longer we leave gyms and fitness facilities closed, the further our collective health is deteriorating. Something has to be done, and every day counts.

Throughout the pandemic, nearly every province in Canada has recognized that access to physical activity is essential. Most provinces have only closed fitness facilities during the strictest lockdowns and have prioritized access to fitness early in their reopening plans this spring. Clearly these provinces understand the positive impact access to exercise can have on the mental and physical health of people in their communities.

Gyms and fitness centers are much safer than we have been led to believe. There is no data available that suggests gyms, when following COVID-19 safety protocols, are a significant source of viral transmission. The Ontario government has not offered explanation, consultation, or evidence to suggest otherwise. Gyms have been unfairly and unjustifiably singled out.  Data for GoodLife clubs in Ontario indicates – when permitted to do so - we hosted more than 9 million workouts during the pandemic without a single confirmed transmission across any of the 34 public health units in this province.

Gyms and fitness studios can be reopened this week if the Ontario government can come together and make a sound decision that will take into account the entire picture when it comes to the health of people in this province. We call on them to review the evidence we, and others in the fitness industry, have provided and give the people of Ontario access to fitness and opportunities for physical activity as soon as possible.

Ontario is making good progress in managing COVID-19, with one of the most aggressive vaccination programs underway and a decline in positive cases. While there is a long road ahead of us, if we work together and prioritize access to fitness in our recovery, Ontario can and will emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier than ever.