Bankers in Hong Kong are starting to hit the gym again as the city eases some of its Covid-19 regulations. Gyms are opening up across the city after a hiatus of several weeks, albeit with tight new social distancing restrictions, such as plastic screens between exercise machines.
In Singapore, bankers will have to wait until at least July, or possibly longer, until they see the inside of a gym. Businesses such as restaurants, retail outlets and gyms may start to reopen only during the second stage of Singapore’s new three-phase reopening plan, the first part of which starts on June 2 and will likely take about four to six weeks.
Hitting the gym after work or at lunchtime is an essential part of the day for many bankers, so Hong Kong’s reopening comes as a relief and coincides with many finance professionals returning to the office. “I’ve missed working out for sure – home exercise, jogging and hiking doesn’t make up for it,” says a Hong Kong-based banking professional. Another Hong Kong banker adds that gym-going is “part of the culture” in the local finance sector.
Banks have been doing their best to placate gym-deprived staff while they work from home. Goldman Sachs runs digital fitness classes for employees in Asia, while DBS’s staff webinars include “home exercises to keep fit and stave off anxiety”.
Agnes Liew was head of Asia Pacific corporate banking at Citi in Hong Kong before she left in 2017 to set up Oompf Fitness, a boutique gym in Singapore that has many members who work in finance. She says clients have been texting her about “how they miss the gym – the weights and the workouts – and that they can't wait to get back”. Finance professionals go to the gym not just to exercise but to “destress”, says Liew.
“They enjoy the physical exertion and also very importantly, the camaraderie with like-minded people at the gym. You don't have that community spirit at home,” says Liew. “Home workouts can still be effective – with bodyweight exercises and minimal equipment like bands – but they’re limited in variety and only fulfil part of your exercise needs,” she adds.
Working out at the gym in the era of Covid-19 will involve additional complications, however. Pure Fitness, which has several branches in Hong Kong’s financial district, has erected plastic dividers between its treadmills to help stop the spread of the virus. Gymgoers across the city must also fill out travel declarations and undergo temperature screening before they enter the premises. Other common rules include wiping down machines with disinfectant before and after use, avoiding water fountains, and maintaining social distancing.
“While different gyms will respond differently to reopening, the cost of operating a gym will go up for all because of restrictions on capacity. Gyms won’t be able to optimise capacity because of safe distancing measures, which I believe will likely be permanent rather than transitory,” says Citi banker-turned gym owner Liew. “Gyms, like many businesses, will have to evaluate the viability of their business model under the new normal. I expect some consolidation in the industry, and in the longer term consumers will pay more for gym usage because of higher costs,” she adds.
Hong Kong closed gyms in early April. In mid-March, Pure Fitness outlets at ICBC Tower, Kinwick Centre and California Tower – all popular locations for bankers – were disinfected after one of the members was found to have visited the three venues.
Photo by John Arano on Unsplash
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