When are swimming pools reopening and what will they look like?

Helen Coffey, Sabrina Barr
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On 23 March, swimming pools closed nationwide as part of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown.

While other public facilities, including non-essential shops, have begun reopening as part of the easing of lockdown measures, it remains uncertain when swimming pools will be allowed to reopen.

However, on Monday 15 June, [comma] Swim England published new guidance on returning to the pool once it is permitted, outlining rules that will help swimmers practise social distancing and prevent further spread of Covid-19.

Here is everything you need to know.

When will pools in the UK reopen?

The earliest possible date in England would be 4 July, although it is by no means certain that swimming pools will be able to open from that time.

Jane Nickerson, chief executive of Swim England, said the organisation “will continue to lobby the government for a reopening date”. However, this decision ultimately falls to the government.

There’s also no firm date in Scotland, but the devolved parliament has said indoor leisure facilities will remain closed until phase three of its plan for easing lockdown – the country is currently in stage one of the plan.

Wales and Northern Ireland have both said leisure centres will not reopen until step four of their coronavirus road maps is reached.

Even once they have the go-ahead, swimming pools will need advance warning in order to prepare.

Richard Lamburn, head of facilities for Swim England, has said they would ideally want three weeks’ notice.

“A lot of pools have never closed before so we’ve been providing the guidance and support needed to local authorities and operators to ensure they were safely shut down and maintained,” he said.

Pools will need to be re-heated, which can only be done at an increase of 0.25 degrees an hour, and water must pass a micro-biological test before they can reopen to the public.

What measures would allow pools to reopen safely?

On Monday 15 June, Swim England published guidance on how swimmers will need to adapt to the “new normal” when they return to the pool.

The guidance, which Swim England said was put together using the latest scientific advice and government guidelines, includes avoiding wide strokes, such as the butterfly stroke, to reduce the risk of coming into contact with other swimmers.

It also includes arriving at the pool wearing your costume underneath your clothes so as to minimise the time you need to spend in the changing rooms and bringing your own bottled water and hand sanitiser from home.

In addition, it states that if you need to take a rest in the pool, you should turn your head away from other swimmers when they come near to you.

“Our first priority remains the safety of everyone involved in our sports, be they participants, leisure centre staff, coaches or volunteers,” Ms Nickerson said.

“When pools reopen, it will not be a case of ‘business as usual’ and we know that things will have to be different.

“However, if we are to play our part in protecting the NHS from another wave of Covid-19 admissions, it is important we follow the latest guidance and adjust to the new ‘normal’.

For more information on Swim England’s new guidance, which it states will be “regularly updated”, click here.

Doesn’t chlorine kill off all the germs anyway?

It’s very likely, yes. Professor Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC that chlorine was “very easily able to inactivate most viruses including Covid-19”.

The main issue is ensuring social distancing is maintained in public areas such as changing rooms and around the pool.

Will any pools close for good?

Around 500 pools may have to shut permanently as a result of financial problems caused by Covid and the lockdown.

Duncan Goodhew, an Olympic gold-medallist and president of Swimathon, the world’s largest annual fundraising swim, told Radio 4’s Today programme that, of the 5,000 public pools in England, 10 per cent might be forced to close for good.

“A little like a restaurant, it becomes very difficult economically to make it work because you’re just not getting the volume of people through,” he said of the pools which would be too “old, inefficient and expensive to run”.

Can I swim at the beach?

Technically yes, but the current guidelines advise that you should only swim in the sea if there’s a lifeguard present. It follows several serious injuries incurred by people jumping from the cliffs into the sea at Durdle Door in Dorset in May.

What about other wild swimming?

Wild swimming or open water swimming – done outdoors in lakes, rivers and other outdoor bodies of water – falls within the bounds of “outdoor activity” allowed under lockdown, according to Swim England.

However, the organisation is advising that only competent and experienced open water swimmers participate in this form of exercise and that they adhere to social distancing guidelines while doing so.

“Even then, we ask that swimmers consider the risks to themselves and others whilst participating in this activity as the majority of locations will not have lifeguards and there is a real risk of cold water shock at this time of year,” says Swim England.

Some man-made open water swimming facilities are closed due to fears of overcrowding, including the Ponds at Hampstead Heath and the Serpentine, both in London.

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