A gym owner in the Okanagan says he’s been fined for keeping his business open despite orders from health officials to close due to COVID-19 concerns.
In late December, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a slate of new restrictions in an attempt to protect hospitals from a surge in Omicron variant cases.
The restrictions remain in place until Jan. 18, and include the province-wide closures of bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios.
One gym in West Kelowna has stayed open, though.
And on Thursday, Iron Energy Fitness Centre co-owner Brian Mark told Global News that the gym had just been fined $2,300 and ordered to close, following an earlier warning from Interior Health.
Mark said Iron Energy isn’t anti-vax and has COVID-19 protocols, but he doesn’t understand why B.C. wants gyms shut down while other businesses, like shopping malls where the public can freely roam, can stay open.
“We are doing everything in our power to stand up for what’s right and fight this virus,” said Mark, adding he believes exercising plays an important role in combating COVID and improving mental health.
“The reason that we’re staying open is not only are we absolutely certain that this is helping the community, but I’ve had members come up to me and tell me straight up that the reason they’re sober is because they had the gym (open) over the holidays.”
He added: “If that means I have to take a $2,300 fine to keep 1,300 of my members happy, healthy, sober and on the right track, then I’m willing to take that punch in the face.”
Global News has reached out to Interior Health regarding the fine. Kelowna RCMP said they issued the fine at the request of the health authority.
On Jan. 4, Henry told a news conference that the number of people getting sick recently means that the province must “re-activate” its COVID-19 safety plans for each sector.
“When we have a lot of transmission in our community, we have repeatedly seen that gyms become amplifiers,” she added. “We can tell you we’ve seen this as a pattern.”
Mark said the gym has received overwhelming support, as well as a smattering of complaints, for staying open, and that some members are even donating to help pay the fine.
He said he plans to contest the fine, but added the donations will be given to charity.
“We will not back down,” said Mark. “If that means they drag me out of here in (hand)cuffs, then so be it.
“It’s time we make exercise essential. Gyms are essential. This entire thing is about health and wellness. … We should have the right to exercise.”
— with files from Amy Judd and Elizabeth McSheffrey
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