Israeli gyms reopen after COVID-19 shutdown, owners feel the burn

Hundreds of fitness centers resumed working under the Health Ministry’s COVID-19 guidelines * owners report a 30% decrease in business due to job uncertainty.

Gym illustrative  (photo credit: SNEHALKANODIA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Gym illustrative
Gyms across the country reopened on Sunday after weeks of being forced to shut down due to coronavirus health regulations.
Gym and fitness center owners protested the closure, asking the government to present data on how many people were infected during a workout. When the Health Ministry presented 35 known cases, Knesset Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud), refused to extend the closure. 
In response, Likud MK Miki Zohar told her, with media cameras present, that he’ll have her fired. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained afterwards that “the government makes a decision, and a Knesset committee cancels it.”
His critics, however, suggesting public support of Shasha-Biton following her decision, coupled with the refusal of restaurant owners to shut their doors, reveal a deep lack of trust in how the Netanyahu administration is handling the pandemic. 
“As I’m speaking with you, the Health Ministry is pushing to have us closed,” Association of Gyms and Studio Owners head Yaron Sela told The Jerusalem Post. “We’re on a roller-coaster ride.” 
Sela, who owns Great Shape gyms, said that the association, along with Holmes Place CEO Keren Shtevy, suggested to the Health Ministry that they would impose upon themselves even stricter health measures – an upgraded Purple Badge – but nobody replied. 
“We offered to increase the space each client trains in to 10 meters,” Shtevy explained, “or to close the gym to elderly clients during some hours to reduce risk.” A meeting between the Health Ministry and the association is set to take place on Wednesday.   
Both Sela and Shtevy feel it would be better if gyms and popular sports were under the Health Ministry than the Culture and Sport Ministry because, Sela said, “at least they [the Health Ministry] look after their own.” 
Sela told the Post that they had asked for one of two things from Culture and Sport Minister Hili Tropper: “to get us a meeting with the Finance Ministry to discuss aid, or with the Health Ministry to discuss why we are being closed – we got neither.”
Sela said that 1.3 million Israelis are paying customers of the health and fitness industry, which employs 110,000 workers and rents 3,000 sport centers across the country. 
“This week we are going to have a heat wave," Sela told the Post, “what does the Health Ministry say? Let people do sports outdoors. Who can train outside in such heat?” 
AMIR GLICK, the head of Naim studios, told the Post that “we’ve been shut down for two months,” which led to a third of his customers not coming anymore. 
Glick explains that, as jobs become scarce or uncertain, thousands of people are forced to leave the city since they can’t pay rent. He thinks that “the way the government deals with us is very irresponsible decisions are changed every moment, without reasons or a clear explanation.”  
In the health industry, Glick said, clients need to know if gyms and classes are available, requiring him to hire additional workers just for that purpose.
Glick explains that Naim Studios are there to make fitness pleasant for all. “Some people are intimidated by gyms because of the loud music, or people who grunt as they lift heavy weights,” he said. “We don’t have any of that – our goal is to allow everybody the freedom to move.”   
To answer demand during COVID-19, he opened online Naim at Home classes for NIS 59 per month. 
In addition to the government’s lack of management, Glick said that the city of Tel Aviv also didn’t think of calling and asking if there’s anything it might be able to do to help. 
“People need exercise during these times,” he said, “almost as much as they need air to breath.” 
If there is a silver-lining to COVID-19, Sela said, it is that it unified a very diverse industry. The Association of Gyms and Studio Owners is the first time a united health and fitness group was formed in the country. “Coronavirus was able to unite us all.”   
In Yeruham, where Gymy opened in June, roughly 200 people who train are looking forward to working out again, manager Racheli Baruch told the Post. 
She said that the local community is very diverse, with some people being more conservative, so Gymy increased its women-only hours to four times a week in the morning. Men have male-only hours twice a week.  
“Our gym has an important function because it’s the only one in town,” she said, “it is a fantastic, exciting feeling to be open again.