The government has announced new lockdown-easing measures that will see indoor swimming pools reopen in England on Saturday 25 July.
Outdoor swimming pools can open from 11 July - although not all outdoor swimming pools have been closed - some wild swimming sites have remained available throughout lockdown.
On 4 July the biggest swathe of re-openings since March took place, with bars, restaurants, pubs, libraries, cinemas, art galleries and museums, all welcoming the public back after 100 days. But venues like gyms and swimming pools have remained closed as the risk of virus transmission was deemed too high for indoor sports facilities.
Possible difficulty maintaining social distancing in changing rooms and pool-side was considered the main reason for the delayed opening rather than transmission in water, where chlorine is likely to kill the virus, according to Professor Keith Neal, professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham.
Now Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has said indoor pools can reopen in England on 25 July, in a daily briefing from Downing Street.
He said people will no longer have to "work out on their living room floors" and that people should "work out to help out".
So what are the new rules and when can we really expect to be able to take our first dip?
When will they reopen?
Mr Dowden said on Thursday, pools in England are permitted to reopen on 25 July.
Although they have been given the green light for this date, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will all open their doors then.
As with other sectors, like pubs and restaurants which have remained closed, many swimming pools will only open once they feel they can safely adhere to new guidelines.
Richard Lamburn, head of facilities for Swim England, previously said they would ideally want three weeks’ notice in order to reheat pools (which can only be done at an increase of 0.25 degrees an hour) and conduct microbiological tests.
The devolved nations, which are now working on a different roadmap from England, have not specified a date for reopening yet.
And some pools will never reopen: experts estimated around 500 UK pools would have to shut for good as a result of financial problems caused by the lockdown.
Duncan Goodhew, an Olympic gold-medallist and president of Swimathon, the world’s largest annual fundraising swim, told Radio 4’s Today programme in June that, of the 5,000 public pools in England, 10 per cent might never reopen.
What are the new rules?
As with other lockdown measures, it is expected the government will release extensive guidance on how swimming facilities can become Covid-19 secure before reopening.
For other industries these measures have included encouraging social distancing, keeping records of visitors for 21 days to help any potential NHS track and trace efforts, and providing hand sanitiser and washing stations to customers.
These booklets normally are issued after the announcement has been made public. But Swim England issued some guidance on 26 June, which gives us an indication of what swimmers might expect when they return to the pool.
Guidance included 5 documents: guidance for clubs, guidance for community swimming, guidance for operators, guidance for swimming lessons and guidance for users.
The guidance for individual users says:
Booking. You should always check the website or social media channels before going to your pool for timetables, and book a slot in the pool if necessary.
Do not go swimming if you show any Covid-symptoms. This includes a temperature, new and persistent cough, loss of taste and/or smell.
Arrive ‘pool ready’. To reduce time spent in changing areas, consider arriving with your swimsuit under your clothes and ready to swim. Once you have finished your swim, leave the venue as soon as you can.
Shower at home and spend as little time in the changing room as possible. Pre and post-swim showers should be conducted at home (even if facilities are open at the pool).
Bring your own equipment. Take any equipment/aids with you (floats, kick boards etc.) ensuring it is clean and identifiable as yours before you arrive. And bring hand sanitiser.
Follow guidance on the duration of swim. Your swimming pool might implement slot times to ensure social distancing is adhered to and the maximum number of people can make use of the pool. If they do, follow their guidance on this.
Respect other pool users. People of different standards and abilities will use the pool. Please respect their right to enjoy their swim. Do not make physical contact with other participants.
Be mindful about your speed and no overtaking. Choose your lane using the fast, medium and slow signs and by watching those already swimming. Please do not overtake whilst swimming. Before pushing off at each turn, check to see if anyone faster is approaching.
Direction. Please follow the directional signs and move across to the appropriate side of the lane for each length.
Social distance in the water. Always attempt to maintain appropriate social distance between yourself and another swimmer.
Pick your stroke and stick with it. There had been some suggestion that Swim England would stop butterfly stroke, as it is a wide stroke and would increase risk of coming into contact with other swimmers, but that advice has now been removed. Now they say if you change to a slower stroke as part of your session, think about moving lanes.
If you are taking part in a swimming lesson with other people then ensure the following:
Your teacher or coach participates from the pool side. The guidance says when delivering swimming lessons teachers and assistant teachers should deliver from the poolside.
Allowing sufficient gaps between classes. Your usual class might be re-timetabled to ensure there is sufficient time between other classes in order to stop crowds building up in changing rooms or pool-side.
Any shared equipment should be sanitised after each use. Although it is recommended you bring your own floats and other equipment, if you do share during a class – then ensure it is cleaned before and after.