Coronavirus isn’t going to stop Dubai personal trainer Emma Jane Robb from getting to the gym.
“I’m definitely still training,” she says. “Due to the lower numbers of other people in the gym, I’m actually really enjoying being there. So I’ve been more motivated to go.”
People are definitely using hand sanitizer more and staff seem to be wiping down machines even more frequently.
“I think it’s somewhat ironic that it’s taken a pandemic to make people follow gym instructions,” she says.
Robb, who is Scottish but has lived in Dubai for eight years, is just one of several people who have decided that the coronavirus will not cancel their workout. Even as the virus impacts nurseries, schools, training programs and international events across the UAE, it appears fitness is still going strong.
“Unless there’s an actual case at the gym, I’ll continue to go,” says another Dubai resident, who asked to reman anonymous. “Going makes me feel good mentally and there are more people dying of bigger problems.”
“I don’t believe you’re at any greater risk of contracting Covid-19 by going to the gym than you are of you go to a mall or eat out in restaurants,” adds Gemma Ward, founder of GMW Consulting. “I’m washing my hands more, but aside from that, nothing has really changed for me.”
The virus is, however, affecting big fitness events. Les Mills Tribe Fest was postponed last week, with the international organization explaining that they had received notification from the Dubai Sports Council that all sporting events in March should be put on hold. Ticket holders were offered full refunds. In a similar vein, Abu Dhabi Sports Council has advised that any sports event or gathering should be postponed, with international training camps cancelled entirely.
For now, gyms still have the go-ahead to stay open. Dubai Sports Council even clarified this, stating that all other normal sporting activities should continue as usual.
“I’m pleased,” says Ward. “I understand why some people worry but brunches, cinemas and even children’s play areas are still ‘business as usual.’ It would be pointless closing gyms when people are gathering elsewhere.”
Dr David Thomas, a professor of medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, essentially agrees with Ward, noting that there is a lower risk of picking up the virus at a gym than at other community activities that involve hand shaking and being in close proximity to people. High-contact surfaces, however, such as barbells or handlebars, can pose a potential problem.
What’s the solution? Cleanliness taken to an intense degree – and gyms across the UAE are embracing all sorts of proactive measures.
Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi notified all clients via email that they are closing on Friday, March 13 to carry out total sanitization, including cleaning air conditioner units and water tanks, all as a precaution. Rev Studio, also in Abu Dhabi, announced they were cleaning all bikes before and after classes using disinfectant. The same goes for the floor and shoes. At Warehouse Gym hand sanitizer and wet wipes are available in multiple locations throughout their branches.
“We don’t want to spread alarm,” explains Ivana Bruic, founder of Storm Cycling in Dubai. The boutique studio has started offering hand sanitizer and stopped serving food and drinks. Other safety measures involve staff wearing gloves and increased air ventilation.
“At the moment our numbers haven’t been affected, but we are mindful of how we can help mothers who would like to attend class while schools are closed,” added Bruic.
People do seem a bit more nervous overall, says TJ Gray, general manager of Bare DXB.
“There’s a lot of fake news being spread,” he adds. “But the only thing we are doing additionally is supplying hand sanitizers around the studio. Other than that, we don’t need a virus for us to know we need to keep our studio clean.”
As to washing your hands regularly, Gray says this should be a habit all the time and not a craze resulting from the fact that there’s a virus going round.
“Our plans will remain the same. Hopefully people will stop living in fear and continue with their lives as normal.”
For Dubai resident-turned-Singapore gym founder Mitch Hyde, the coronavirus slowdown has actually boosted numbers at Spartans Boxing Club. “Events have been postponed here to avoid mass gatherings but the gym is still packed. Some people have actually started going because they say the virus has made them more aware of their health.”
“Try to avoid touching your face unnecessarily, keep your surfaces clean and stay calm,” says Cox.
Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. Cough and sneeze into your elbow, and if you’re feeling ill, don’t work out.
Finally, Cox reminds fitness enthusiasts of one important thing everyone else would do well to remember, too: “Don’t let this take over your life.”
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer