The open letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dear Prime Minister
We are writing to urge you to reconsider the decision to force leisure centres to close during the second national lockdown due to begin this Thursday.
We appreciate the incredibly difficult situation facing the government and support measures to reduce the spread of infection in our communities. However, we believe the decision to force leisure centres to close is a mistake.
Swimming pools are well managed, chlorinated, controlled environments where the risk of transmission can be successfully mitigated.
Figures from UK Active from over 1,900 facilities and five million visits in the week of 5-11 October, found just 156 customers reported attending a facility before being confirmed positive with COVID-19. This indicates an incidence rate of 2.88 cases per 100,000 visits whereas the UK case rate in the general population, as reported by the Government for 5- 11 October was 150.83 cases per 100,000 people.
Furthermore, the data collated for the UK across the whole period since reopening – measured from 25 July to 11 October – shows the sites have seen more than 45 million visits, with an overall rate of 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits.
As well as being a safe activity, swimming is vital for many people’s physical and mental wellbeing (1.4 million adults in Britain felt that swimming had significantly reduced their symptoms of anxiety or depression). This will be more important than ever as people try and cope with a second lockdown – at a time of year when it will be more difficult than before to be active outside.
The Government has itself repeatedly stressed the importance of being active to help in the fight against Covid-19 yet Sport England research showed that activity levels dropped substantially during the first lockdown. For many people with a range of health conditions, exercising on land is simply not an option and the water offers them the only real opportunity to be active. Closing pools, therefore, risks widening health inequalities in the country and will have long term public health implications.
More than 1,000 clubs up and down the country have been operating in a Covid secure way, offering the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people of all ages to be active in the water and improve their health and wellbeing. Losing this opportunity would be devastating for so many.
For the sake of our clubs that partake in all our sports, members, operators, coaches, teachers, people of all ages learning to swim and those that simply enjoy recreational aquatic activity on a regular basis, we implore you to look again at the decision to close swimming pools and leisure centres. In these challenging times, they should be classed as an essential services for the mental and physical health benefits of millions of people.
Many pools were facing an uncertain future even before the second lockdown, with hundreds up and down the country never even having re-opened their doors since March. A Sports Recovery Fund is required to safeguard the future of these vital community facilities through the lockdown and beyond.
We therefore urge you to allow swimming pools to remain open to play their part in our shared fight against Covid-19, and to provide them with the support they need to continue serving our communities.
Jane M Nickerson
Chief Executive – Swim England