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Coronavirus fears sees closure of aquatic centres despite conflicting advice

Coronavirus fears sees closure of aquatic centres despite conflicting advice
March 17, 2020

Inconsistent advice on whether aquatic facilities are safe to use during the current global Coronavirus outbreak is leaving both patrons and facility managers confused.

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) being identified as an airborne virus which cannot spread through water, a spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Health last week explained that “COVID-19 is very unlikely to be transmitted through swimming pool water where adequate chlorine levels are maintained.”

However, speaking on ABC News Breakfast this morning, ABC Health Correspondent Dr Norman Swan suggested that people should "steer clear of swimming pools" during the current crisis.

When asked if it is still safe to take children to the local pool for the swimming lessons, Dr Swan responded "this is (a) common question and I don't know the answer to it unfortunately.

"Part of the problem with swimming is the variability in chlorination. And if you're in a part of Australia where it's hot and lots of people are using the pool, you don't want to go there anyway because you don't want to go anywhere where there's large numbers of people.

"So chlorination, essentially bleaching, does work for SARS CoV-2, it does kill the virus. But the question is whether there's enough chlorine in the pool water to do that, and of course it's very diluted.

"My guess is that the chances are incredibly low in a well-chlorinated pool, but the problem is that you're mixing with other people in a wet environment and wet environments are not good.

"They're very good environments for passing on infection of all kinds."

While the cities of Ballarat and Melbourne have closed their public pools, as well as other facilities, in line with the Victorian Government's state of emergency declaration, the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (SOPAC) abruptly ceased its operations yesterday.

In a post on its Facebook page on Saturday, SOPAC surprised the aquatic facility sector, advising "VENUE CLOSURE: The Aquatic Centre will be closed to Swim School, Health Club & General Entry Patrons from Monday 16 March 2020, until further notice as a result of the Commonwealth Government decision on public gatherings."

Following up on the risk of Coronavirus in public pools, Gary Toner, Executive Officer at Swim Australia, has advised that public pools undergo a stringent testing process by government officials to ensure they regularly meet requirements.

Speaking to News.com.au today, he stated "most would be able to sanitise their pools for the removal of any type of virus."

Toner noted that the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated there is no evidence the virus can survive in a properly chlorinated and filtered pool.

A statement on the CDC website advises "there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs

"Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19."

Toner commented "COVID-19 is similar to SARS, in that SARS did not survive in a properly sanitised environment."

Toner was quoted as saying that aid it made sense that SOPAC was closing as it had thousands of people using the facility, and not just to swim, commenting "people use the gym, they have meetings. The pool is following government recommendations which are recommending limits on organised gatherings of 500 people or more."

Brendon Ward, Chief Executive, Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association backed up Toner's comments, explaining that it was less about the pool and the chlorine and more about the sheer volume of people that are attending the facility.

Ward noted "the other thing we have been really clear on with our swim schools is the need for people who are not feeling well is to stay at home and not go to the classes."

Offering advice to swim schools, Ward added "the consensus and the direction we have been providing is that a swim school is akin to a school and the same sorts of things should apply.

"We are aware that if schools have had positive cases that they have closed down, the same thing would apply with a swim school.

"They would go through a complete cleansing process, make sure all their staff were tested; all the things a school would do are the same things a swim school should do."

The CDC’s advisory note, Water Transmission and COVID-19, can be viewed at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/water.html

The latest information from the Australian Government on Coronavirus can be viewed at www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

Image: Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre.

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