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Ontario gyms feel left behind as province moves to Stage 2 reopening

Robert Przybylski said another six weeks of closures or another lockdown is all it would take for his Whitby, Ont., gym to close for good.

Robert Przybylski said another six weeks of closures or another lockdown is all it would take for his Whitby, Ont., gym to close for good. 

After months of being closed for Ontario’s second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, he can’t help but feel left behind as other businesses prepare for looser operating rules on Wednesday for the province’s Stage 2 of reopening. 

The province will increase patio seating limits at restaurants and allow larger social gatherings, but gyms and other fitness facilities will remain closed.

"I agree to take it slow, but we have taken it slow, everywhere else looks more open than we do, and we’ve followed the guidelines for a year and half,” said Przybylski, who runs The Den Athletics.

“We’re at the point where the province gave us the guideline that we would be open at this pace of vaccinations, and we’re still having businesses pay the price for what?”

He said gyms help with mental and physical health and should be able to open with safety measures in place.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Ontario has been the slowest Canadian province to reopen fitness facilities as well as a host of other entertainment and service industries, and businesses are struggling as a result.

The province has said it will wait a minimum of 21 days before moving on to Stage 3 of its reopening plan, although it has moved slightly ahead of schedule before.

However, Julie Kwiecinski, the CFIB's director of provincial affairs for Ontario, pointed out that federal business grants will start to subside in early July, and businesses will have the rug swept out from underneath them if they aren't given enough time to get back on their feet.

"Ontarians listened to their governments, they went out there and met the vaccine thresholds that were established to open the economy, so why do we have to wait?" said Kwiecinski.

She also said businesses need more details around how much they'll be able to open in Stage 3, since the government hasn't given details around capacity limits.

Totum Life Science, a fitness chain with five locations in Toronto, says it has managed to operate with about 50 per cent of the business they usually have through outdoor and virtual fitness classes. 

But co-founder Stacy Irvine says there's a sense of frustration around not being able to open further along with other businesses.

"We do feel that what we do is very safe," said Irvine, who said Totum Life Science also operates a sports injury clinic that has stayed open without any outbreaks. 

"We’ve operated for over a year in that space with injuries and we’ve had no spread."

For others like Przybylski, who doesn't have the resources to hold many outdoor classes, the situation gets more dire with each passing day.

"I expected we’d be opening mid-June, so I’ve been really stretching out loans as best as I can," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2021.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press