The head of a Southwark swimming club has criticised the government for letting pubs, hairdressers and non-essential shops reopen before swimming pools.
All shops have been allowed to open since June 15 in England, while hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants can welcome back customers from July 4.
But swimming pools and indoor gyms remain in the dark about when they can reopen, with no public guidance given by the government.
Andy Moore, chairman of Southwark Aquatics in Surrey Quays, said it didn’t make sense to keep swimming pools closed when other businesses that are more likely to find it hard to keep customers apart can soon reopen.
He added: “It brings me frustration that pubs, cafes, hairdressers and even shops are all open. From first hand experience, the controls that they’ve put in place have proved quite difficult for them to implement all of the time.
“Looking specifically at pubs, the biggest concern from my perspective is when people have a few drinks, how are you going to stop them from breaking social distancing rules?
“And yet these are all things that within the swimming environment because of the structure we have we are able to control pretty tightly. And yet they’re open and we’re not.”
Swim England, the sport’s national governing body, will present a petition to the government this week urging them to let swimming pools reopen. Around 45,000 people have signed. The organisation has also written a detailed set of guidelines explaining how swimming pools can reopen safely.
Mr Moore added: “What’s really frustrating from our perspective and from Swim England’s perspective overall is that we’ve done a lot of work in the background to prepare for reopening and a detailed guidance document has been put together that’s been shared around.”
Measures put in place include widening lanes and only allowing ten people in each lane at a time, putting a one-way system in place, getting swimmers to complete a questionnaire to check if they’ve had symptoms and appointing a staff member to make sure people keep to the rules.
Not all kinds of swimming pool activities could come back straight away, Mr Moore admits.
“There is absolute scope to bring back mature swimmers, structured swimming in lanes for fitness,” he said.
“What might be more difficult is… free swimming sessions, splashing about, families playing with floats and things like that. That would not be possible on day one.
“But fitness-focused swimming should wholeheartedly be brought back, and could be done safely.”
Swimming has a societal benefit, Mr Moore adds. Researchers from the Centre for Perioperative Care have argued that general physical fitness is a good way to avoid being severely ill with coronavirus.
And because it is a low-impact activity, swimming is a popular form of exercise for people of all ages.
Mr Moore said: “The fitness benefits of swimming are huge… it is low-impact so good for people of all ages, from the youngest right the way through to older people. And the fitness people get from it is incredible.
“For example my daughter was swimming 12 hours a week, which is a huge amount of time spent in the pool, but from a fitness perspective it’s absolutely tremendous for her.
“Being closed down for 12 weeks now and who knows when the end date is, she hasn’t had that available to her. Yes she can go and do other forms of exercise, but it then becomes an individual training programme, which isn’t as easy to adhere to because you don’t have the camaraderie that comes from being part of a club with your friends, and the social aspect.”
Southwark Aquatics, which is based in Seven Islands leisure centre on Lower Road, hasn’t been as badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown as some organisations, as all of its staff are paid hourly or are volunteers. The club stopped taking membership fees when swimming pools were ordered shut in March.
But Mr Moore worries that the club will struggle to bounce back to where it was before lockdown, when it had 70 members.
He said: “When you are doing something day in day out it becomes a routine and you stick to that. But when you have a 12-week downtime, you’ll get people who say ‘well I’ve managed without it, I haven’t missed it’ and they might not come back, so that hits our revenue stream.
“You have people who are rightly still concerned about whether it’s the right time to come back to the pool, and that’s something that we have to work with our members on and get the message across to them that an awful lot is going on, so that they are as confident as they possibly can be that everything is safe.
“You’ve also got the aspect that people have lost their jobs, people are furloughed and on smaller incomes. People might look on swimming as a luxury that they can’t afford and decide from a financial perspective they can’t bring somebody back.”
Early indications are that most people want to come back to the pool, Andy said – when they can reopen.