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Virology experts must look at extra gym safeguards first

A leading New Zealand exercise expert has slammed virology experts who have not looked at extra safeguards and precautionary gym efforts first.

Otago University epidemiologist professor Michael Baker and colleagues believe physical distancing will not be enough to combat the virulent Delta covid strain if most of New Zealand drops down from level three tonight.

He has suggested gathering places such as gyms, bars and churches should stay closed despite an expected easing in covid restrictions.

ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie says professor Baker may be an expert in virology, but he does not understand human behaviour.

“He is missing the essential element that, with the right controls, any activity including people attending gyms can be safe. I would be very happy to challenge him to a public debate on this issue.

“When professor Baker previously called for gyms to stay closed, I sent him our strict national gym policy framework, which has been praised here and overseas including the World Health Organisation (WHO). It has been adopted by many other countries as a template for their own covid response.

“The key is about going above and beyond government guidelines, which we have done since May 2020. We insisted on two metre distancing and many other safe practices including a full mask policy.

“We have developed and continually updated our response to evidence-based research. We are confident that the risks can be managed, and Kiwis can continue to exercise with our controls and a specific detailed framework.

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“Professor Baker is incredibly short sighted. Exercise is proven to be one of the best things a person can do to build a more robust immune system. It’s clear he needs to engage in a constructive evidence-based debate, not emotive clickbait comments such as saying keep bars and gyms closed.

“While everyone might want a black and white answer, it’s not that simple. It is not whether gyms should be open or closed, but what can be done to keep people safe. The exercising public has been safe at level two and gyms have been operating without any issues for almost 19 months now.”

Beddie has worked in the exercise industry for over 30 years, including providing regular support to the WHO on setting physical activity levels.

He holds a science degree in statistics and understands statistical probability modelling.

Cabinet is due to review alert levels for New Zealand excluding Auckland later today and given the lack of transmission outside of Auckland a move down from alert level three is on the cards.

Auckland, the centre of the Delta outbreak, is due for a review of its alert level the following Monday.

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