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Olympian Steve Parry says swimming pools can be key in fight against coronavirus

Olympic medallist Steve Parry says swimming pools should be allowed to operate in a second national lockdown as part of the ongoing fight against coronavirus.

Leisure facilities across the country are facing another four weeks of closure from Thursday 5 November as part of the latest Government measures to curb the increase in cases.

However, Steve fears more pools will be lost as a result of the lockdown and argues people swimming in Covid-secure environments is key to maintaining the physical and mental health of the nation – something he believes should be a priority in the current climate.

He said in an interview with BBC Breakfast News: “The whole thing around grassroots sport is quite stark and quite depressing.

“Just to shut down all activity, especially at grassroots level again, will definitely have some impact. Swimming in particular, we are going to lose so many community facilities.

“It’s not an easy thing to shut down and start back up again. We’ve already had a number of pools that chose to stay closed after those first four months and I fear every time we go into lockdown, we are going to end up with facilities just disappearing forever.

“I hear all the time the Government saying we have to follow the science and I never understood the first time around why gyms and swimming pools were at the back of the queue when opening back up.

“The incidents of infections we have seen through ukactive studies and Sport England have shown that there are less than three infections per 100,000 people that visit gyms and leisure centres.

“Let’s take swimming in particular. People are turning up beach ready, having limited interactions in a Covid-secure environment and then swimming in chlorine.

“We know that chlorine reduces the chance of infections being transmitted. People want to be safe and being in a chlorinated pool is one of the safest environments you can be in.

“I understand the argument that we have to hit coronavirus head-on but we also need to not throw everything out when it comes to doing activities that are safe.

“The Government talks about us being healthy and that’s absolutely the right message but we’re also going to struggle with coronavirus and other health conditions if we don’t prioritise being active and being healthy.

“We also need to think about what happens in six months and a year from now.

“Although the next month is really important and we have to get the R rate down, I’m also asking questions around what our activity levels and the health of the nation looks like six months from now?

“I just get frustrated when I see swimming and other sports at the back of the queue when the evidence suggests that they are safe.”

Positive strides

Steve, who won a bronze medal in the 200m Butterfly at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and who was inducted into the Swim England Hall of Fame last year, said the measures introduced to make pools safe were really positive.

He added: “I’m not sure it is right to close all swimming facilities around the country.

“We have a lot of drownings every year, swimming is on the national curriculum and we have hundreds of thousands of kids leaving primary school unable to swim.

“The strides that have been taken over the last month to make environments safe and secure I think are really positive.

“I do hope that we can open back up in a month’s time – I know that’s everyone’s hope.

“The challenge for gyms and leisure, and in particular swimming, is that it takes time to get these facilities ready and back up and running.

“You have to make sure the pool is working, it’s up to temperature and there is a lag.

“What I hope is that there is forward planning and the date that we perceive we can open up on, the whole industry can get galvanised and back open so people can get active.

“Swimming is very popular – two million people swim every week and we know not only the physical benefits but the mental benefits as well.

“1.4 million adults say it has a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.

“We are going into winter, it’s getting darker and it’s not just about kids learning a vital life skill. It’s also about the most popular sport in the country being able to operate and fight coronavirus.”