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Swim school director argues for reclassification of swim schools during lockdown

July 14th, 2021

Karen Bentley, director of Nepean Swim & Fitness in Sydney has spoken about the negative impact on learning to swim programs of the enforced lockdown of public pools.

In particular, she is urging the state government to reclassify swim schools as an essential service to keep children safer.

Her comments come on the back of a series of studies that have found properly disinfected swimming pool water deactivates coronavirus, and zero reported incidents of covid transmission having been recorded in indoor pools.

“Swim schools have been closed in lockdown, despite other early learning settings remaining open, and despite the proven safety of the indoor learn to swim centre environment,” says Bentley.

“A recent UK study showed that chlorine deactivates the coronavirus in 30 seconds and a US study of over 300,000 patrons of indoor swimming pools reported zero incidents of covid-19 infections in the aquatic environment.”

Earlier, Griffith University research found similar results.

Bentley says that while there are a number of important drowning prevention initiatives, learning to swim is by far the primary driver to control our national drowning statistics.

“Swim safety is achieved by skill repetition, and crucial swimming skills learnt are lost without practice. 12 children aged 0-4 years drowned in Australia in 2019/20, a 37 per cent decrease on the previous year – we are very concerned that repeated lockdowns will have a tragic influence on these figures,” she says.

“We believe that swim schools should be recognised as an essential educational facility and should be treated the same way as pre-school and other educational institutions.”

Payroll limit exemption

She also believes swim schools should be exempt from the payroll limit rendering them ineligible for government assistance during lockdown in the same way that tourism, accommodation and hospitality are exempt.

She adds that despite a 100 per cent decrease in income during lockdown, many NSW swim schools are ineligible for the recently announced government assistance, threatening their ability to reopen after lockdown.

“At least cafes and restaurants can serve takeaway, whereas we are unable to trade at all. It just doesn’t seem right. And we are not alone – many local businesses face the same difficulties; the exemptions seem pretty arbitrary.”

Emily McNeill, general manager of the Australian Swim Schools Association says that swim schools provide essential life-saving skills to their local communities.

“These prolonged lockdowns halt this process and prevent vital education and impact the health and overall well-being of our children,” says McNeill.

“Faced with zero revenue and standing down staff, swim schools are concerned about the future of their businesses and long-term industry affects.”

Lindsay McGrath, CEO of SPASA Australia says that swimming provides an immense benefit to our health and wellbeing.

“Whether it be at public pool or at home, enjoying and exercising a pool or spa is an integral part of our active Australian culture. It is crucial that we continue to promote the benefits of keeping our facilities open and pools clean and healthy during the pandemic,” he says.

IMAGE: Karen Bentley, director of Nepean Swim & Fitness in Penrith with operations manager Terry Spinks 

Watch an interview with Karen Bentley on Studio Ten.

By Chris Maher
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