Coronavirus: Hong Kong fitness chain Pure Group to close all venues for cleaning after two cases linked to gyms

Lilian Cheng

A Hong Kong fitness chain that sparked anger when it initially refused to close a gym visited by two people later confirmed as coronavirus cases will shut down three venues for a fortnight and cease its remaining operations for two days.

The Pure Group faced criticism on social media on Thursday for allowing three of its clubs in Central to stay open amid fears they could be a source of transmission.

In the evening, the group released a statement saying the three centres in question would be closed with immediate effect for two weeks and reopen on April 2, while staff including trainers who had contact with the infected patients would be quarantined.

As a precaution, all remaining gyms under its network would be closed for two days and reopen on Sunday. All locations will undergo thorough and deep cleaning, according to the chain.

The group, which has at least 12 yoga centres and 11 gyms across the city, sent out a message on Thursday morning, confirming a member had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The message said the person appeared to have recently visited three centres in Central – Pure Fitness California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong on March 11, Pure Fitness ICBC Tower on March 14 and Pure Fitness Kinwick Centre on Monday. The member started feeling unwell on Tuesday and tested positive for the virus on Wednesday.

The Pure Group has at least 12 yoga centres and 11 fitness centres across Hong Kong. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The company said the member had not taken any group or yoga classes and only had a training session with one member of staff, who was now under mandatory quarantine.

The second confirmed patient also visited the centre in Lan Kwai Fong after returning from Singapore on March 9.

According to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the two infected were both 29-year-old men.

“We will further look into the cases and investigate if the centre could be a source of transmission,” said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the CHP.

“The centres should be thoroughly sanitised, as some of the facilities might have been polluted.”

Earlier, instead of closing the centres, the Pure Group said three of its sites had been deep-cleaned and disinfected by a third party, and assured members the facilities were safe to use.

Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings, the landlord of the entertainment district, told the Post the California Tower and the nightlife hub had undergone thorough cleaning and sanitising, after the CHP confirmed five patients had been drinking in the area recently.

“Our concern is that there are many young people who returned from overseas this week, and hopefully they won't come out during the 14-day quarantine period,” he said.

“We and our tenants are all concerned about coronavirus outbreak, and will strike a balance between operations and keeping jobs.”

He added business for the Lan Kwai Fong restaurants and bars had been tough since late January when the health crisis worsened, with revenues of some down 40 to 60 per cent in the last two months compared with the same period last year.

Pure Group’s social media pages were on Thursday morning filled with dozens of angry messages from its members demanding more information. Some said the company should not have continued operations after the infection was confirmed.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 members have signed an online petition, demanding a waiver of the HK$288 (US$37) monthly charge for suspending their memberships.

The fitness group allows members to suspend their memberships twice in a calendar year and for a maximum period of three months each time.

“Very selfish and irresponsible corporate,” one message read. “When gyms and fitness centres from around the world are closed, this … insists to stay open, running classes in small rooms and passing the risks of infection to its members.”

“I am a doctor working in a public hospital,” another message read. “I have suspended my membership as I’m worried that I may get infected from my work and also infect other members. I am wondering given this reason, if the suspension fee can be waived.”

What gyms are doing to reassure users amid coronavirus pandemic

Another member, Maggie, said she had sent an email to the company raising her concerns.

“The virus patient might have only used the fitness facilities, and not those for yoga. But still, the patient could have shared facilities such as toilets, showers and lockers.”

“The way Pure has been handling its operations amid the coronavirus scare is worrying. Just ‘deep-cleaning’ the space or offering hand sanitisers aren’t enough. They need to update their strategies, such as limiting class size. They have still been cramping everyone in a small classroom for yoga,” she said.

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