Can I swim, drive, with whom? from 13 May (England)

It is clear from official statements and documents (see Official Sources at the end) that in England from Wed 13 May swimming outdoors is specifically allowed, as is driving any distance to get there, and doing exercise and spending time outdoors as often as you like, as long as it is alone, with household members, or at 2 m distance from ONE other person from a different household. Details and summary here, and some issues to consider. (Updated 180520)

Reaction to the policy change has been mixed, with a welcome from many and concerns from others. Outdoor Swimmer magazine has outlined the reactions of various bodies and report from their poll that many swimmers think it is too soon. They give advice to those who might be considering having a swim, as do the Outdoor Swimming Society. The RNLI have given safety advice  to those who might travel to the coast to swim or do other activities.

Various bodies have asked people not to go to hotspots, to avoid putting extra pressure on emergency services, and to be cautious especially if they are not used to water temperatures or new to outdoor swimming.

This is really useful practical and sensible advice, including on whether and where it is ok or acceptable to do outdoor activities, which could apply to swimming – Covid and the outdoors: Professor Ian Hall answers your questions

See Note to landowners on their responsibilities now for people who choose to swim in waters on their land

(More reactions, and all Sources at the end)

My summary:

Policy changes apply from Wednesday 13 May in England.

Ideally people should continue to minimise the number of social contacts they have each day.

They must meet with no more than one other person from outside of their household to exercise or spend time outdoors.

People can exercise outdoors as much and as often as they wish, and can drive any distance to get to the open space (though not to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland). It doesn’t have to be exercise, it can be spending time in the outdoors, for example sitting and enjoying the fresh air, picnicking, or sunbathing”.

The Prime Minister in his statement in Parliament 11 May 3:30 pm, specifically mentions swimming, not swimming pools but lakes and the sea. (I’m sure this shouldn’t be taken to exclude rivers.)

People are urged to continue to act responsibly and not to mix in groups in parks.

Facebook groups and similar in which people usually arrange to meet others to swim together should continue not to allow group meets as this would break this advice. But they can, if they choose, enable people to meet one other.

Popular tourist destinations have asked people to show restraint in travelling to the areas eg Cornwall, Cumbria and the Lake District, and North Norfolk. Many swimming spots are in small rural communities where it could be insensitive to flock to in large numbers. So as swimmers we should be restrained and sensitive to the areas if we are considering travelling there to swim.

Swimming is no more risky than other activities, but we should continue to minimise risk when swimming, as distancing is not possible should you need rescue, and we still want to avoid burdening emergency services. See Outdoor Swimming Society advice and more on swim safety on this website.

The Royal Life Saving Society have put some basic water skills training online. It is worth learning some skills and educating yourself to give you confidence in the water. Even young lifesavers can complete the course. The toolkit runs over four units and covers an introduction to water safety, different environments, emergency actions and safe rescue. (Apparently it is simple to do once you register online, but I haven’t yet) www.rlss.org.uk/take-the-toolkit

There is no specific mention of swimming anywhere in the document, but angling and tennis are given as examples of outdoor exercise, and the Prime Minister in his statement in Parliament 11 May 3:30 pm – see below, specifically mentioned swimming in lakes and the sea. (I’m sure this shouldn’t be taken to exclude rivers).

The Outdoor Swimming Society have published guidance on Facebook explaining that swimming is allowed in England and linking to safety advice.

The legislation has been amended, so that you still have to have a reasonable excuse to go out, but that now includes exercise or being outside, and you can do that alone or with members of your household or with ONE other person from another household.

Legislation with amendments 13052020 marked, but easier to read if download Regulations 2020 – Legislation.gov.uk (downloads PDF)

College of Policing advice – England has been updated (and also covers Wales on p2 of downloadable PDF – images below at the end of article). PDF can be downloaded from the College of Policing website.

Unlike before 13 May, it is no longer necessary for going into the water or the countryside to be only for exercise in England. The amended legislation now has this very useful addition to the list of reasonable excuses to leave your home:

“to visit a public open space for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote their physical or mental health or emotional wellbeing”.

The government is recognising explicitly the value of open-air recreation, which of course includes swimming, paddling, and just enjoying the water. (Reg 6, Regulations 2020 – Legislation.gov.uk (downloads PDF))

Quotes from official sources (my emphases in bold)

The key document emphasises that “The number of social contacts people make each day must continue to be limitedp24

“Step One

The changes to policy in this step will apply from Wednesday 13 May in England. As the rate of infection may be different in different parts of the UK, this guidance should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” p29

Public spaces

SAGE advise that the risk of infection outside is significantly lower than inside, so the Government is updating the rules so that, as well as exercise, people can now also spend time outdoors subject to: not meeting up with any more than one person from outside your household; continued compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain two metres (6ft) away from people outside your household; good hand hygiene, particularly with respect to shared surfaces; and those responsible for public places being able to put appropriate measures in place to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidance.

People may exercise outside as many times each day as they wish. For example, this would include angling and tennis. You will still not be able to use areas like playgrounds, outdoor gyms or ticketed outdoor leisure venues, where there is a higher risk of close contact and touching surfaces. You can only exercise with up to one person from outside your household – this means you should not play team sports, except with members of your own household.

People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household.

When travelling to outdoor spaces, it is important that people respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and do not travel to different parts of the UK where it would be inconsistent with guidance or regulations issued by the relevant devolved administration.

These measures may come with some risk; it is important that everyone continues to act responsibly, as the large majority have done to date. The infection rate will increase if people begin to break these rules and, for example, mix in groups in parks, which will trigger the need for further restrictions.” p31, ‘OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’, May 2020, CP 239, Download from https://t.co/zPUWwGS8si?amp=1

On Gov.UK: “Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do 

Updated 11 May 2020

All changes will come into effect on Wednesday 13 May. Until then you should follow existing guidance on social distancing.    

The government has published staying safe outside your home for guidance on what the new rules will mean. These will take effect on Wednesday. This page sets out key FAQ to inform the public and help you prepare for these changes.

This guidance applies in England – people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the specific rules in those parts of the UK.

  1. Public spaces / outdoor activities / exercise

1.1 What can I do from Wednesday 13 May that I couldn’t do before?

There will be a limited number of things you can do on Wednesday that you cannot do now:

  • spend time outdoors – for example sitting and enjoying the fresh air, picnicking, or sunbathing
  • meet one other person from a different household outdoors – following social distancing guidelines
  • exercise outdoors as often as you wish – following social distancing guidelines
  • use outdoor sports courts or facilities, such as a tennis or basketball court, or golf course – with members of your household, or one other person while staying 2 metres apart
  • go to a garden centre

At all times, should continue to observe social distancing guidelines when you are outside your home, including ensuring you are 2 metres away from anyone outside your household.

As with before, you cannot:

  • visit friends and family in their homes
  • exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool
  • use an outdoor gym or playground
  • visit a private or ticketed attraction
  • gather in a group of more than two (excluding members of your own household), except for a few specific exceptions set out in law (for work, funerals, house moves, supporting the vulnerable, in emergencies and to fulfil legal obligations). …

1.4 Can I meet my friends and family in the park?

You can meet one other person from outside your household if you are outdoors. Public gatherings of more than 2 people from different households are prohibited in law. There are no limits on gatherings in the park with members of your household.

1.7 Are there restrictions on how far I can travel for my exercise or outdoor activity?

No. You can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance. You shouldn’t travel with someone from outside your household unless you can practise social distancing – for example by cycling. Leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed.

1.8 Can I share a private vehicle with someone from another household?

No. You can only travel in a private vehicle alone, or with members of your household.

5.3 Can I use public transport to get to green spaces?

You should avoid using public transport wherever possible.”

From Gov.UK:Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do 

(It is likely that though it says park, the same restrictions apply in any outdoor space.)

Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament 11 May 3:38 pm:

“We have all lived, so far, with onerous restrictions on outdoor spaces and exercise—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) interjects from a sedentary position. I know that he is a keen swimmer. Unfortunately we cannot do anything for swimming pools, but we can do something for lakes and the sea. This is where we can go significantly further, because there is a lower risk outdoors than indoors. So from Wednesday there will be no limits on the frequency of outdoor exercise people can take. You can now walk, sit and rest in parks, you can play sports and exercise, and you can do all these things with members of your own household, or with one other person from another household, provided you observe social distancing and remain two metres apart.”  Transcript in Hansard

The government has now updated this – Coronavirus – guidance on accessing green spaces safely – GOV.UK. It includes:

“In England, you can now: 

  • go swimming in either lakes or the sea as part of daily exercise provided that social distancing guidelines are observed – you cannot use public indoor and outdoor pools”

Note that  the reason it mentions lakes and the sea is because that is what the prime minister specifically said in Parliament, and whoever drafted it didn’t appreciate that people also swim in rivers (and for that matter in other types of water) in England. It would be better if it was changed to add “rivers” as well as swimming in lakes and seas, and it also shouldn’t say “either”, but perhaps “open water such as…”

However I don’t think for a moment that we should assume that the guidance excludes swimming in rivers and other suitable water. Legislation for England doesn’t mention any specific types of water or for that matter swimming. The original and amended legislation do not specify what type of exercise (hence the position being clear that swimming has never been banned in England).

My earlier article from April and early May analysed the previous position from late March, when swimming was clearly not banned, though there were many factors making it more difficult. I won’t update it.

Official Sources:

[Referring to England only]

The government’s full document, published 2:55 PM 11 May 2020, ‘OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’, May 2020, CP 239, Download: https://t.co/zPUWwGS8si?amp=1

Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do (Gov.UK)

Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament 11 May 3:30 pm, at just after eight minutes in. Also transcript in Hansard

Coronavirus – guidance on accessing green spaces safely – GOV.UK.

Legislation with amendments 13052020 marked, but easier to read if download Regulations 2020 – Legislation.gov.uk (downloads PDF)

College of Policing advice – England has been updated (and also covers Wales on p2 of downloadable PDF – images below at the end of article). College of Policing advice, PDF can be downloaded from the College of Policing website

Guidance for the public on the phased return of outdoor sport and recreation – GOV.UK

(More links in my Note to landowners on their responsibilities now for people who choose to swim in waters on their land)

Reactions and advice

RNLI: Your watch: Stay safe at the seaside 13 May

RLSS: Five Points For Open Water Swimming Safety (see graphic at end of this article) Has a link to the advice in the next paragraph

‘Key safety advice for open water swimmers’ drawn up jointly by RLSS, Swim England, and British Triathlon  Download the document. Comment: I think this is fairly well balanced and sensible advice, especially for those planning to swim in unsupervised waters. It does put a strong emphasis on swimming in supervised waters, considering whether it’s appropriate to swim at all at the moment, and if you do swim recommending a wetsuit below 20°, then goes on to explain how to assess a place for risk and how to keep yourself safe. Not all will need to wear a wetsuit, either because they are already acclimatised, or can soon be – though in a sensibly gradual way – in waters which are now warming up fast (around 15 degrees in East Anglian rivers, about 17 degrees in lakes, might be colder elsewhere.)

Outdoor Swimming Society latest

Outdoor Swimmer what the government’s new guidance means for outdoor swimmers

Outdoor Swimmer “This is not the time to ‘have a go’…”

Broads Authority latest 15 May

Forestry England latest 15 May

STA Open Water Swimming Guidance FOR Swimmers and Coaches 13 May, download the PDF. Comment: I don’t think this guidance is helpful. It suggests that swimming is so dangerous that it should never be done unsupervised in open water. In fact if people follow simple safety guidelines – as all other organisations are putting out – swimming is no more dangerous than many other activities on land or water.

Some influential individuals and organisations are suggesting that people should not swim at the moment on moral grounds. In contrast, this is a nice reflective non judgemental piece in Outdoor Swimmer

Another balanced discussion, by a coastal swim group https://seabirdsdotblog.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/to-swim-or-not-to-swim/

Outdoor swimming venues are beginning to open, with distancing measures and limited supervision. This Outdoor Swimmer article has the latest

British Canoeing (England): a return to paddling

British Canoeing (England:) Staying safe on the water

p1 of COP guidance
College of Policing advice, PDF can be downloaded from the College of Policing website
p2 of COP guidance
College of Policing advice, PDF can be downloaded from the College of Policing website
graphic for 5 points
Five Points For Open Water Swimming Safety RLSS