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Your Covid-19 questions answered

Is it safe to swim in public pools, lakes and at beaches during the Covid-19 pandemic?

09 November 2021 - 07:00
According to the World Health Organization, there is no chance of contracting Covid-19 while swimming.
According to the World Health Organization, there is no chance of contracting Covid-19 while swimming.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

With the December holidays fast approaching, many will trade the office for chilled afternoons at the beach and public swimming pools.

But is it safe and what is the chance of contracting Covid-19 while swimming?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no chance of contracting Covid-19 while swimming because “the Covid-19 virus does not transmit through water while swimming”.

“However, the virus spreads between people when someone has close contact with an infected person,” said the WHO.

“Avoid crowds and maintain at least a 1-metre distance from others, even when you are swimming or at swimming areas. Wear a mask when you’re not in the water and you can’t stay distant. Clean your hands frequently, cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or bent elbow, and stay home if you’re unwell.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also noted that it is not aware of any scientific reports that Covid-19 spreads to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, or other treated aquatic venues.

“The virus most commonly spreads from person-to-person by respiratory droplets during close physical contact (within six feet or a few inches longer than a typical pool noodle, both in and out of the water)," said the CDC.

According to a study by virologists at the Imperial College London, swimming pool water can inactivate the Covid-19 virus in just 30 seconds under the right conditions.

The study into swimming pool water was undertaken by virologist and expert in respiratory viruses Prof Wendy Barclay, together with research associate Dr Jonathan Brown and research technician Maya Moshe from the Imperial College London and project managed by Alex Blackwell, head of pools and facilities at Water Babies Group.

“We performed these experiments at our high containment laboratories in London. Under these safe conditions, we are able to measure the ability of the virus to infect cells, which is the first step in its transmission,” said Barclay.

“By mixing the virus with swimming pool water that was delivered to us by the Water Babies team, we could show that the virus does not survive in swimming pool water, it was no longer infectious.

“That, coupled with the huge dilution factor of a virus that might find its way into a swimming pool from an infected person, suggests the chance of contracting Covid-19 from swimming pool water is negligible.”