While top gym chains in India are shuttered over the COVID-19 pandemic, many workout dens are defying government orders of a lockdown by staying open for their muscle-bound customers.
Exercise fanatics have said their need to pump iron is worth the risk, and the gyms’ owners keep opening up, despite facing police action, meaning the dumbbells carry on being lifted and the treadmills stay turning.
In one cramped gym in a crowded New Delhi backstreet, about 20 people were waiting for a turn on one of the 10 machines.
“There is fear, because every action or government circular comes down to how good the police are,” said the owner, who gave only his first name, Rajeev. “It is also a matter of our livelihood.”
Rajeev said that shortly after he opened his gym in 2016, the government canceled more than 80 percent of banknotes to counter the black economy.
That badly hit businesses, as did a new national sales tax introduced in 2018.
“So we have been under the hammer and now cannot afford to shut down,” he said.
Authorities have been cracking down on the gyms, with police in New Delhi arresting two owners on Sunday for illegally operating.
Four criminal cases were also filed against gyms elsewhere in the capital, police said.
India, which has reported 10 deaths from about 500 virus cases, staged a one day curfew on Sunday to test its pandemic defenses. Authorities then ordered drastic new restrictions on movement.
In between barking out orders to his sweat-soaked members and staff, Rajeev said he believes bodybuilders can fight the virus with strong immunity and that India’s climate would help.
“India is a very hot country, so when the temperature rises and I have learned that temperatures between 25 to 26 degrees centigrade can destroy this virus,” Singh said, highlighting a widely held belief in the nation of 1.3 billion people.
The WHO has said there is no proof that heat kills the coronavirus.
“I have taken action, there is sanitizer. If your immunity level is very strong, then you can fight this virus,” Rajeev said.
While schools, colleges, swimming pools are closed, and top sporting events, such as the Indian Premier League cricket, are suspended, dozens of gyms are operating across New Delhi.
India has a booming bodybuilding culture and for many, extra hours are needed to burn off unwanted fat, no matter the risks.
“I am 13 kilos overweight and I’m doing a 50-day challenge,” one 27-year-old university researcher told reporters as he wiped off sweat after a 20-minute run on a treadmill.
“Everyday I go to my room, I ignore the fact that there is coronavirus and keep on motivating myself that I have to go to the gym,” he said.
“This virus is secondary — if I am healthy then I can kill the virus,” he said.
He added that he would keep going to the gym, despite the threat of police action if caught.
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