Lockdown draws new fitness fanatics who pack the road

Impala Road, which connects various townships of Soweto, could easily be mistaken for the starting line of a marathon in the mornings because of the large number of people exercising in groups.

A group of about 500 or more run or walk in mass training every morning in an
effort to keep healthy and fit.

They come in different sizes, shapes, with children as young as 11-year-old.

The groups also include matured people, women and men older than 50.

Some of those Sowetan spoke to confirmed that they only adopted the healthy lifestyle since the lockdown began to keep themselves occupied while gaining on fitness -mentally and physically.

Coming from all sides of the usually busy Impala Road in the far west end of Soweto - either on Tshepisong or Doornkop side - they converge at their central spot near KwaMoses, a famous local shisanyama, which is closed according to lockdown regulations.

When people arrive here, they join their groups for exercises including push-ups, squats, lunges and skipping.

The groups have large numbers which clearly defy the lockdown rules, more so social distancing. The majority of the joggers and walkers also do not have face masks on as they run close to each other.

One runner from Tshepisong who did not want to be named told Sowetan that he was not wearing a mask
because it makes his breathing difficult when he runs.

"I'm aware that this is not allowed but what can I do. I just cannot exercise wearing a mask; as a result I don't even have it with me," he said.

Asked if he was not afraid to contract Covid-19, he said: "With the issue of Covid-19, I think you can never be 100% sure that you are safe or be too careful about it."

Acting director-general of the department of health Anban Pillay said the national department of health was encouraging the use of face masks by members of the public when out in public, to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (or influenza virus) being coughed up by those with the infection.

"Since some persons with the coronavirus may not have symptoms or may not know they are infected, everyone should wear a face mask. The national department of health therefore recommends that everyone in South Africa should wear a cloth face mask [also known as a non-medical mask] when in public."

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that people were permitted to exercise during all hours of the pending level 3 lockdown, provided it was not done in groups.

Sowetan spoke to some of the exercise fanatics, including a group of teenage girls aged between 15 to 17.

"We do have masks with us but we're not wearing them [now] because it is not easy to exercise with them on," one of them said.

"We only started exercising when the president allowed public exercises because we were tired of sitting at home and not doing anything. We were starting to gain a lot of weight and jogging will actually help us a lot."

A group of boys aged between 11 and 13, who are also players of Young Bucks, a local soccer team, said they were jogging because their coach encouraged them to keep fit. They too were not wearing masks.

"We are aware that the masks are important but it is difficult to run with them; we are aware of the high risk of contracting Covid-19 but we are running anyway," one of the boys said.

Fitness fanatic Zamile Ngwandla, who hails from the Eastern Cape, was leading a squat exercise. He said they've been exercising from Monday to Friday since exercising was permitted. He said in the past he trained alone.

"They asked me to join them as I was exercising alone and I am helping them with exercise as you can see. We are doing squat and abs."

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