City officials are trying to figure out how a single Quebec City gym that refused to obey lockdown orders could have been linked to the infection of at least 580 people including one 40-year-old man who died after contracting COVID.
Health authorities told CBC that the Mega Fitness Gym had broken at least three public health orders before it was forced to shut down on March 31, just as the city was placed under another lockdown amid surging infection rates. The outbreak has prompted local health authorities to conduct an epidemiological investigation into how the virus was able to spread so rapidly, and whether the infections were caused by the deadly U.K. variant.
The gym owner, Dan Marino, had protested government-mandated business closures by reopening his facility in the middle of a province-wide lockdown last summer. According to CBC, the gym owner had shared social media posts that downplayed the seriousness of the virus and cast doubt over the necessity of wearing face masks.
In June, police showed up at Marino’s gym after receiving a complaint that he had hosted a 5 a.m. “grand re-opening” of his family business. Marino told a local daily newspaper that, after touring the business, the police officers left without imposing any fines or ordering him to shut the gym doors.
“I was not surprised by the presence of the police and I told them to do their job as I did mine," Marino told Le Journal de Québec, adding that he had taken the necessary precautions to keep his clients safe.
“My biggest fear is going bankrupt… I have nothing to lose. If I am fined $50,000, I will add it to my debts. Either way, it won't make a difference since I'm going to go bankrupt. I have invested 25 years of my life in this business and I don't want to go out of business without doing anything. I would regret it all my life. I'm not the people's savior, but I'm just trying to save my business.”
Although Marino maintained that he had been adhering to social distancing measures after defying lockdown mandates, Quebec City’s public health director said that, based on the latest inspection, it was clear that the gym had not been taking proper safety precautions.
According to the director’s statement, which was reported by CTV, gym-goers were not being screened for symptoms, employees were not wearing proper personal protection gear, and clients were not physically distancing themselves from each other.
Marino finally closed the Mega Fitness Gym doors to the public on March 31. But at that point, it was too late. With hundreds infected, one gym client dead, and more casualties likely to come—the outbreak has spiraled into one of Canada’s biggest superspreader events.
Addressing Quebec City’s latest lockdown amid Canada’s lagging vaccine rates and staggering third COVID wave, Mayor Régis Labeaume had some choice words aimed directly at Dan Marino.
“Bravo, champion,” he said. “Everyone has nice biceps but now people are sick."