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Delta man takes on B.C. government over gym closures

Nearly 20,000 people have signed an online petition
Gym owner Laurie Elizabeth Noh works out in her downtown Port Coquitlam facility during the first wave of pandemic closures in 2020. Gyms like hers have once again been closed — this time as a measure to quell a spike in cases due to the Omicron variant. MARIO BARTEL/TRI-CITY NEWS

A Delta man is calling on the province to reopen gyms and fitness centres shut this week to stem the spread of the SAR-CoV-2 Omicron variant. 

Dylan Ferguson was exercising at his local gym when he saw provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on TV announcing what he calls a “unilateral decision” to close gyms until Jan. 18, 2022.

“I was just surprised,” he tells Glacier Media. “Gyms and fitness centres have had booking, distancing and masking for months.”

The closures, which came into effect Dec. 22 at midnight, cover indoor gyms, fitness centres, bars, nightclubs, as well as dance and yoga studios. Indoor gatherings, such as wedding receptions, have also been shut down. Restaurant patrons, meanwhile, will be reduced to six per table, and concerts, movie theatres and sports venues must now operate at 50 per cent capacity.

In closing gyms and fitness studios, Ferguson points to the positive effects such facilities have on people's physical and mental health, something officials have been saying is important to take care of every time there's another surge of COVID-19. 

Moreover, the Delta man says many of his friends and colleagues who rely on the fitness industry for a living are struggling to stay afloat. That's despite all their best efforts to adhere to public health guidelines. 

On Dec. 21, Ferguson launched a petition on the website, calling on Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Henry to keep gyms open with additional restrictions.  

“Rather than a knee-jerk reaction, the province should work with the industry to explore alternative measures,” notes the petition.

Within 48 hours, nearly 20,000 people signed the online petition.

“I can’t exercise with 15 people but I can sit and watch Spiderman with 50 people? That doesn’t make sense,” Ferguson says. “Give gyms the opportunity, frankly, to operate at 50 per cent capacity.”

On Thursday, Ferguson sent a letter to Henry and Dix but has yet to receive an official response. 

In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the focus of the latest orders was to keep people and communities safe. In that light, said the spokesperson, closing businesses is meant to buy time and help prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The BC Independent Modelling Group echoed those goals Wednesday in a report that warned hospitals would be overwhelmed by January. The analysis did not look at where cases were spreading the most.  

“We know how difficult and challenging this is for staff, customers and owners of these businesses,” wrote the ministry spokesperson.

“We have to remember that this is only temporary — a four-week period — and we encourage all businesses to review their COVID-19 safety protocols and make sure staff and customers are reminded of the protocols in place — such as mask-wearing and proper physical distancing.”

B.C. reported 2,046 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, an all-time daily record.