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Coronavirus: We need clarity, says Belfast gym owner as she closes up

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Nicola Rea of Think Fit gym

Nicola Rea of Think Fit gym

Nicola Rea of Think Fit gym

A Belfast gym owner has called on the Government to provide clarity for small businesses over coronavirus, as she prepares to shut down for reasons of public safety.

Nicola Rea, proprietor of one-to-one gym Think Fit on the Lisburn Road, will pull down the shutters this weekend and has no idea when she will be able to reopen.

Her five members of staff will also go unpaid during the closure as Mrs Rea will be unable to generate any income until she feels it is safe to reopen, or if the Government explicitly tells businesses that they are allowed to do so.

On Monday evening the Prime Minister said all people in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, stop all non-essential contact, and work from home if they can.

However, Boris Johnson's guidelines have left small business owners like Mrs Rea in the dark as to how to operate in the weeks ahead.

"The suggestion from Boris Johnson was not to go to places like the gym but he didn't force us to close so it's unclear," she stated.

"He says that he's expecting people to do the right thing but I'm not sure what that means.

"I'm going to assume that means you should close if you have a business like ours but he doesn't want to say it because I think that means that they will have to up their compensation.

"The right thing to do is to close to protect the public but everyone is reluctant to do so because we're not sure what funding we're going to get, if any."

Mrs Rea, who is six months pregnant, feels the Government's advice to those who are expecting a child - to remain home for the next 12 weeks - is just "not feasible".

She felt that if she decided to follow that advice and stay indoors for three months, her business could close permanently.

"We would be finished because by that stage, and okay, we will have clients who will return to us, but we would have to start again by building our reputation and everything," she stressed.

As part of Stormont's Covid-19 package of measures to delay the spread, Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced an emergency £100m rates package to assist businesses.

But Mrs Rea doesn't believe that will do any good.

"Our rent is almost £2,000 a month but the rates aren't anywhere near that so deferring a rate payment is really just the tip of the iceberg," she commented.

Gym owners across Northern Ireland are now deciding whether to close their doors to protect the public or remain open for a source of income.

And while Think Fit is a small one-to-one gym, Mrs Rea sympathised with those in the same position as her and her staff.

"It's a really, really tough call because you're being asked by the Government to choose which to prioritise, the health of the public or you and your livelihood," she said.

"That's a really tough call to make because of course you want to say: 'Yes I care about public health more than anything else'. But how can you say that?

"It would mean that caring about the public health is going to potentially bankrupt you.

"We're in a better position than bigger gyms [in terms of cleanliness] but we're in a worse position financially because bigger gyms rely mainly on monthly payments coming in for people using the gym.

"We're relying on people paying for a block of sessions which no one has been buying in the last 12 days because they don't know when they're going to be able to use them."

Belfast Telegraph