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Don’t be ‘short-sighted’ and close essential leisure centres in very high-risk areas plea

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has urged the Government and local authority leaders not to be ‘short-sighted’ and suddenly close leisure centres in areas hardest hit by coronavirus cases.

The Government has announced a three tier system to help tackle the spread of the virus – with very high-risk areas facing the toughest action since the national lockdown was eased.

However, Jane has stressed that research has shown the prevalence of coronavirus in swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms is extremely low and they should not be forced to close under the new restrictions taken to tackle the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Merseyside region would be placed under tier three from Wednesday – the highest level that can be imposed.

This prevents leisure centres and gyms from opening, pubs and bars closing, no households mixing indoors or outdoors and essential travel only.

Discussions between central and local government will take place before deciding what restrictions will be placed on areas moving into tier three in the future.

Jane hoped this would mean some areas would not necessarily follow the Merseyside example and still allow leisure centres to operate if they were subsequently moved into tier three.

She said that further enforced closures would be ‘kicking the sector when it was down’ as many facilities were still shut while others were still fighting to fully recover from the impact of the first lockdown.

“We fully appreciate that action is needed to stop the spread of coronavirus but closing swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms is not the answer,” said Jane.

“If anything, these are the essential facilities that are needed more than ever before as an active, fitter population will be better equipped to fight against the virus.

“Being active is proven to help people’s mental wellbeing which will be crucial to helping people get through another lockdown.

“For those very reasons, it would be a short-sighted decision to close leisure centres in very high-risk areas.

Consider the science plea

“Comprehensive research has shown that facilities have low-level prevalence of coronavirus and the safety measures put in place to ensure customers’ safety are working.

“Therefore, it would be a case of kicking the sector when it is down by closing them down again and we would urge any area moving into the very high-risk status to seriously consider the science and facts before going down this route.

“For so many people, aquatic activity is their only form of exercise. Denying them that opportunity in Covid-secure environments would be a travesty.

“Yes, the spread of coronavirus is a nationwide concern but the mental and physical wellbeing of millions should not be simply brushed to one side and ignored.”

Jane said the measures could put even more facilities at risk of permanent closure.

“We have been shouting loud for months now to plead for the financial support that our industry desperately needs as facilities struggle to recover from four months of enforced closures and a reduction in the number of customers since being allowed to open,” said Jane.

“The consequences of closing swimming pools and leisure centres in new very high-risk areas could be catastrophic for the sector.

“Any investment the Government makes into leisure facilities would easily be saved in the NHS and social care system.

“Instead of closing pools and leisure centres again, the Government must see the bigger picture and step in to #SaveLeisure for the benefit of the nation.”

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