This is how to keep gyms safe, according to health experts

27 August 2020 - 19:32
Gyms in SA will not yet be able to open at 100% capacity, but health department guidelines will help them navigate level 2 regulations.
Gyms in SA will not yet be able to open at 100% capacity, but health department guidelines will help them navigate level 2 regulations.
Image: 123RF/uatp2

Experts advising the government on Covid-19 health protocols have outlined how gyms can open safely.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Thursday made public dozens of advisories from the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Covid-19. One of them, dated July 23, outlines how important gyms are to helping SA have a more helpful population - but how they can operate safely.

The guidelines were developed based on global best practice and reviewed by leading medical experts, according to the document. They refer to lockdown levels 3 and 2, with more guidance to be provided for level 1.

"The fitness industry will have a vital role in ensuring the ongoing health and wellbeing of the nation following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. We believe this role has never been more important than at the current time in helping the country regain its health," the document said.

"The industry must, however, open with the appropriate screening, social distancing and hygiene controls which prevent or limit transmission risk. This framework ... aims to provide a clear direction for the industry to follow.

"Operators can make their own decisions and can go above the standards within this document - but not lower."

The proposed fitness industry plan below focuses on both staff and users at gyms or fitness centres:

What risk mitigation measures should be instituted?

  • Due to the closed space and confined space, masks should be used in gyms and health facilities as recommended by the fitness industry.

(The World Health Organisation recommends that masks should not be worn when exercising as they may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. But according to the health department, the evidence around this recommendation is not strong, so masks should be worn.)

Symptoms, screening and contact tracing:

  • The proposal to call the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) for each symptomatic case should be removed.
  • Cases should be managed according to existing protocols, i.e. send home to self isolate and access testing as indicated by guidance at the time.
  • The memo proposes to add that cases can be evaluated by a healthcare provider if needed.
  • For confirmed cases – notification must be made by the attending clinician or laboratory doing the test and not the health club.

Social distancing:

  • If feasible, consideration should be given to having maximum class numbers. 
  • Consider spaces of more than 2m as 2m may not be sufficient for high-intensity exercises. Masks will become saturated quickly and sweat droplets can spray further than 2m.
  • Equipment needs to be separated by 2m, which should be measured from the outer edge of the equipment.


  • Masks should be worn at all times. Since activity is in a closed space, it is safer for masks to be worn, with removal only when the exercise is vigorous.
  • Use of FFP2 masks for staff is not consistent with other guidance.

Staff who test positive for Covid-19:

  • Self-isolation should be amended to 10 days, as per updated recommendations 

High-risk and confirmed exposure by asymptomatic:

  • The currently indicated isolation of eight days is proposed to align with the duration of quarantine guidelines.


  • The term "sick leave" should be clarified, and replaced with "quarantine" or "isolation".