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With swim schools facing permanent closure industry leader calls for learn-to-swim services to be classed as an essential service
Karen Bentley, Director of Nepean Swim & Fitness in the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, has called for swim schools to be reclassified as an essential service to reduce drownings and keep Australian children safer.
Highlighting that drowning remains the number one cause of accidental death among children aged five years and under in Australia, Bentley has this week launched a media campaign pointing out that this tragic statistic will not improve with swim schools across the country having been repeatedly closed during Coronavirus lockdowns.
She points that with swim schools across the nation not classed as an essential service, thousands of Australian children have missed out on learning this crucial lifesaving skill over the past 16 months.
Bentley also advised that despite a 100% decrease in income during lockdown, swim schools are struggling to obtain government assistance, threatening their ability to reopen after lockdown.
Bentley explains “whilst 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% decrease on the previous year (and) we are very concerned that repeated lockdowns will have a tragic influence on these figures.
“You only have to look at what happened last year in Victoria - following multiple lockdowns, Victoria reported a record number of drownings from July to December last year.
“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.
“Furthermore, swim schools should be exempt from the payroll limit rendering us ineligible for government assistance during lockdown, in the same way that tourism, accommodation and hospitality are exempt - 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 - (but) the exemptions seem pretty arbitrary.”
Bentley highlights that 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.
Here she cited 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 that reported zero incidents of COVID-19 infections in the aquatic environment.
Bentley added “it’s frustrating and inconsistent that you can take your child to preschool, daycare, vacation care, Woolworths, JB Hi-Fi and Bunnings during lockdown, but you can’t bring them to small learn to swim classes in an environment that has been proven safe multiple times both here and overseas, with defined Learn To Swim class times ensuring limited occupancy.
“We too have COVIDSafety plans, QR code check in and socially distancing measures in place, so we can also record the visit data as mandated, whilst delivering a lifesaving skill.”
Terry Spinks, Operations Manager at Nepean Swim and Fitness went on to say “unfortunately, the long term prognosis for swim schools isn’t looking good.
“Most are small ‘Mum and Dad’ businesses who have been hit hard by Covid and are only just beginning to recover. During lockdown we earn zero income and given the nature of our business will still incur significant costs whilst closed, but we are not eligible for any financial assistance from the NSW government during this recent lockdown.”
The current NSW Public Health Order (Division 4 - paragraph 24) states that “nothing in this clause prevents the use of premises to (a) to provide a service to assist vulnerable members of the public…and (b) as an early education and care facility”*.
Alan Bentley, also a Director of Nepean Swim and Fitness explains “this clause is particularly relevant to the learn to swim industry - the majority of our facilities patrons are young children learning to swim, including children with special needs, and people of all ages requiring the water for physical rehabilitation.
“Surely these people can all be classed as vulnerable, and our services classified as education and care? Children are vulnerable if they cannot swim.
“We are not requesting special treatment or looking for any kind of loophole to operate within what we understand is an incredibly serious pandemic, we just want a level playing field and fair consideration of our unique industry and environment. We are strongly recommending to government that we are reclassified as an essential educational facility so that we can continue to deliver this vital service to the community in a safe and controlled environment without further shutdown periods to prevent even more lessons being missed. We also ask that the payroll limit exemption to be eligible for the current NSW government assistance is extended to include swim schools. Our swim school has thrived locally for 30 years previous to COVID, but along with hundreds of other swim schools nationally we potentially run the risk of not being able to reopen our doors, depriving thousands of local children of lifesaving swim safety education, and many local residents of employment.”
Spinks added “I call on the government to reclassify us as an essential educational service - the irony is we are classified as such for GST purposes, so it is simply an extension of that classification.
“However, despite an abundance of international research to support our case, our request for consideration seems to be falling on deaf ears. This could have dire consequences for the children of NSW and across the country, many of whom already are not hitting their age appropriate swimming milestones.”
Images: Nepean Swim & Fitness (top) and Terry Spinks and Karen Bentley at the facility (below). Credit: Nepean Swim & Fitness.
3rd June 2021 - Victorian lockdown impacts the aquatic industry
13th April 2021 - Union says swim teachers set up and pack up is paid work
8th April 2021 - Swim Australia shares resources to aid swim teacher recruitment
18th March 2021 - Drastic shortage of swim teachers puts young Australians at risk
5th February 2021 - World’s Largest Swimming Lesson to return in June
13th September 2020 - Royal Life Saving survey suggests that swim school enrolments fell by 30% in August
8th July 2020 - ASSA to stage virtual conference for swim schools
30th April 2020 - ASSA raises concerns over future of swim schools
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