A gym was inundated with angry calls and bad publicity after his venue was branded a COVID hot spot. Tests proved it was all an error.
A gym was inundated with angry calls and bad publicity after his venue was branded a COVID hot spot. Tests proved it was all an error.

COVID false positive cripples business

EXCLUSIVE

The owner of a gym in Sydney's northwest says he has been "left to pick up the pieces alone" after a false positive coronavirus case caused him massive financial losses.

Jacob Awad, the owner of Plus Fitness in Epping, said his gym lost 37 members overnight after receiving a call from NSW Health on Monday that a COVID-positive person had visited his gym.

"We got the call to evacuate about 6pm on the Monday, saying the case had visited on the Saturday morning," Mr Awad told NCA NewsWire.

Jacob Awad, owner of Plus Fitness gym in Epping, has been ‘left to pick up the pieces’ after a false COVID diagnosis. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw
Jacob Awad, owner of Plus Fitness gym in Epping, has been ‘left to pick up the pieces’ after a false COVID diagnosis. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw

"We were contacted and told they were sure, it was a confirmed positive."

Mr Awad followed the direction and evacuated the club, then spent $1000 on a professional deep clean.

"(My clients) were shocked when we evacuated," he said.

"And as a result, they become more nervous, they put their memberships on hold."

Jacob Awad owns three Plus Fitness gyms, including the Epping one which was falsely declared a COVID venue. Picture: Facebook
Jacob Awad owns three Plus Fitness gyms, including the Epping one which was falsely declared a COVID venue. Picture: Facebook

After the case was announced to media on Tuesday morning, things got worse.

"We had a large member loss, a large backlash on social media. We were featured in every news article, on prime time TV, there was a camera crew outside our venue specifically pointing out to avoid this facility," he said.

Where the gym would usually see about 100 people come in per day, on Tuesday only five people were in the centre during peak hour.

Mr Awad said the gym was inundated with angry phone calls.

Many blamed him for the case and claimed the gym could not have been COVID-safe - even though there was no evidence the virus had spread there.

Five days later, the businessman got another call, telling him further testing had confirmed the first test was a false positive - meaning no one with coronavirus had entered his gym.

"After all the damage was done, they were like, 'Look we're really sorry, we're going to remove it from our website, we hope you understand'," he said.

"Yeah I understand, but now I'm left to pick up the pieces."

Mr Awad received an email from NSW Health three days after his gym had publicly been named a COVID venue to confirm the positive test had been incorrect.
Mr Awad received an email from NSW Health three days after his gym had publicly been named a COVID venue to confirm the positive test had been incorrect.

Mr Awad, who runs three Plus Fitness gyms across Sydney, said there was no way for any business to prevent being stung by the effects of a visit from a COVID-positive person.

"We'd implemented all the protocols for us to be a COVID-safe business (before the false positive case)," he said.

"We split up the equipment, we have hand-sanitising stations everywhere, a no-towel no-train policy, we've got social distancing decals everywhere and we had meetings with all our staff and made it clear what's required.

"These are all strictly implemented.

"There's no crystal ball to know, 'Oh, you have COVID, please don't come into our facility'."

While Mr Awad understands the rush to confront a positive coronavirus case, he believes more care should be taken to help business owners.

"I jumped onto the NSW Health website (Friday) morning and we were still listed as positive and avoid," he said.

Customers were told to avoid Jacob Awad’s gym. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw
Customers were told to avoid Jacob Awad’s gym. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw

"I was told (Thursday night) it would be taken down immediately, because NSW Health didn't want to cause a significant impact.

"But it has had a significant impact on our business."

NSW Health said in a statement a previously reported case, who was a staff member at Concord Hospital, had been excluded "following further testing".

"As a result, anyone previously identified as a close contact has been notified and informed they are no longer required to complete 14 days isolation," the statement read.

"This includes close contacts previously identified at Paperboy Cafe in Concord and Plus Fitness Epping."

The gym owner said between the financial toll of the coronavirus and the added strain of the false positive, things were getting tight and he would have to consider cost-cutting measures.

"Let me put it this way: Gloria Jeans right next door to me has shut. The baker on the other side of me, shut, the Asian grocer up the road, shut, the tailor, shut," he said.

"We employ more than 60 people (across the three gyms). We're able to do that by running a healthy business.

"If our revenue takes a hit, something's got to give. We've got to find a way to keep moving. It comes to a point where I've got to let go of staff or reduce hours."

He said the most helpful thing anyone could do at the moment was leave the house and buy something.

"Don't be worried - all the protocols are in place. Go out and support your local business," he said.

"Go buy a coffee, some bread, go to the gym and look after your own health.

"By doing that for yourself you're helping someone else too."

Originally published as COVID false positive cripples business


Ciao! Italian film gems on the big screen

Premium Content Ciao! Italian film gems on the big screen

THE Italian Film festival will offer new stories, old classics re-told and some...

Welcome relief for shared parenting as border opens

Premium Content Welcome relief for shared parenting as border opens

Shared parenting hampered by border closures but that’s will change

SNAKE BITE: Man flown to hospital from rural property

Premium Content SNAKE BITE: Man flown to hospital from rural property

AMBULANCES and the rescue helicopter were called to the property on the Summerland...