Hamburg: “Safe operation of swimming pools with unvaccinated people possible”

WDuring the month-long lockdown, all pools and saunas nationwide had to close. The German Society for Bathing (DGfdB) considers this decision unnecessary and refers to safe pandemic plans. What makes the association so safe and what are the consequences of the current restrictions on bathing operations? We asked the DGfdB spokeswoman Ann-Christin von Kieter and Michael Dietel, spokesman for Baederland Hamburg.

WORLD: Whether in the sauna or in the swimming pool – 2G now seems to apply across Germany, i.e. access only for those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered, or are there exceptions to this rule somewhere?

Ann-Christin von Kieter: As far as we know, at least 2G applies throughout Germany. Unvaccinated people are not allowed to go to the swimming pool even with a test.

WORLD: In Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, the vaccination rate is still comparatively low. Are hygiene concepts conceivable that could also allow the unvaccinated to access bathrooms and saunas?

from Kieter: Yes, two years ago we published the “Bathroom Pandemic Plan”, which enables safe bathing operations regardless of whether the guests are vaccinated against Corona or not.

WORLD: What exactly do the measures of the pandemic plan look like?

Michael Dietel: Among other things, it contains regulations on the implementation of distance requirements, the best possible routing, the provision of disinfectant dispensers and ticket sales. In the meantime, additional online tickets are offered in order to avoid contacts in the payment process as far as possible. If you still want to buy your ticket at the ticket office, you can check in via Luca for contact tracing or leave your details in writing.

Ann-Christin von Kieter is spokeswoman for the German Society for Bathing and Swimming (DGfdB) and Michael Dietel is spokesman for Baederland Hamburg

Source: Kieter archive; Nina Stiller

WORLD: And with these measures you can minimize the risk of infection in swimming pools?

from Kieter: Yes, from our point of view, the measures described in the pandemic plan are sufficient to ensure safe bathing operations.

WORLD: Then why are the Corona rules so restrictive for your industry and exclude unvaccinated people?

from Kieter: The operators of the saunas and pools have no room for manoeuvre, the access regulations for swimming pools are regulated in the ordinances of the federal states. The association also criticizes this, because indoor pools are safe places. Even during the lockdown, it would not have been necessary to close the indoor and outdoor pools.

WORLD: No closure, even with high incidences?

from Kieter: To put it very clearly: In principle, pool closures are not necessary in pandemic situations, unless you want to set symbolic accents. That’s nothing new either, we as the pool association made exactly this statement to the public in November 2021. At the time, we presented a study by the operators of the Luca app that supports our opinion.

WORLD: Can you briefly explain the study?

from Kieter: Yes, but I have to go back a bit: 38 million Germans have installed the Luca app, it is used at a total of 421,676 locations in Germany and 323 of 375 health authorities are connected to the Luca system. An official evaluation of all reports received by November 2021 – after all, there were around 250 million data records – showed that only 0.58 percent of all infections took place in baths and saunas.

Almost all countries are examining the contract – some have already terminated

The Luca app should make it easier to fight the pandemic. She was celebrated, but also criticized a lot. Data protectionists have security concerns and there are also increasing cases where the police wanted to get hold of data from the app. The contracts with the federal states are now expiring.

Source: WELT/ Viktoria Schulte

WORLD: Isn’t it also conceivable that this good result is related to the vaccination, which was already well advanced at the time?

from Kieter: Sure, that can’t be ruled out. But as early as autumn 2020, when there were still no vaccination options, the Hermann Rietschel Institute of the TU Berlin had predicted a low risk of infection in pools and saunas – with a so-called R value of 0.5, the scientists only just missed the annual figure the calculated Luca value of 0.58.

WORLD: According to a study by the Ruhr University Bochum, the infectiousness of the corona virus decreases with increasing temperature and humidity. Why do the strict corona rules also apply in saunas?

Dietel: That’s right, the virus breaks down at 60 degrees Celsius, as research on corona viruses has repeatedly found since the 1960s. And we have much higher temperatures in the sauna cabins – up to 110 degrees Celsius. Many guests know that high temperatures kill viruses, so in conversations we quickly find ourselves in need of explanations.

from Kieter: However, one must not forget that a visit to the sauna does not only take place in the sweating rooms. Especially when entering and leaving a sauna cabin, it is not always easy to keep the minimum distance…

Dietel: … and that’s why a maximum of ten people are currently allowed in a sauna cabin in Hamburg at the same time. In smaller ones, of course, even less. In this way, distances can also be maintained when going in and out, since not so many people want to go out at the same time as usual, for example after an infusion.

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WORLD: Do your guests want the corona rules in the saunas and pools to be relaxed or tightened?

Dietel: The feedback from bathers on the measures is mixed. What is too easy for one is too strict for another. Also, the feedback varies seasonally. In the summer, many people didn’t relax quickly enough because they wanted to go to the outdoor pool. On the other hand, some were appalled by the supposed normalization.

One example is our popular summer outdoor pool in Kaifu-Bad. Before the pandemic, we counted up to 9,000 guests a day, with most guests coming in the afternoon, after work, logically, around 4,000 or even 5,000 at the same time. For comparison: last summer only a maximum of 700 people were allowed at the same time. Even that was too many visitors for some of our guests, while others complained about the restrictions.

WORLD: Have the indoor and outdoor pools in Hamburg suffered major losses due to the pandemic?

Dietel: Of course, compared to 2019, i.e. before the pandemic began, revenue fell by up to 65 percent. We are also expecting a strong impact this year.

WORLD: What does the Corona Containment Ordinance of the City of Hamburg currently provide for bathing establishments?

Dietel: Distance requirements and access limits apply. Depending on the size of the location, we are currently only allowed to let in around ten to 30 percent of the usual volume of guests. In addition, 2G-Plus is mandatory everywhere.

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WORLD: Is there a big rush, do you have to turn bathers away?

Dietel: Due to the very small number of visitors allowed, it actually happens that we are sold out. At a very low level of around 80 guests, a normal indoor pool is already fully occupied. Usually 400 people are there.

Schools have free rein in the pools in the morning and in the afternoon it is a matter of finding a compromise between learning to swim, general bathing and swimming and club sports. In the evening, the clubs have justified demands for water times. But all together must not exceed the permitted limit.

WORLD: How do you solve the problem?

Dietel: We have created time windows so that as many people as possible can still get access. So several times a day the maximum of 80 from the example just given. The times vary depending on the bathroom. In the Bondenwald swimming pool, for example, we usually open at half past six in the morning and don’t close until 10 or 11 p.m. The day is divided into several fixed time packets. Interested parties can use three-hour windows for their stay. In the breaks in between, cleaning and disinfection are carried out in addition to the usual routines.

WORLD: Your industry is certainly in constant contact with the Robert Koch Institute – are there any new recommendations from this side because of the Omikron variant?

from Kieter: The Robert Koch Institute does not issue any specific information for swimming pools.

WORLD: What will remain of all the new hygiene measures in your bathrooms and saunas once the pandemic subsides and the virus is considered defeated?

Dietel: Here in Hamburg, the online sales process will remain alongside that at the checkout, with contact details that can be stored. Perhaps the registration via app will remain if the Senate decides so. But overall, the procedure will certainly normalize.

WORLD: And the hygiene standards?

Dietel: Regardless of the pandemic, they are generally very high for swimming pool and sauna operations. It would be desirable if children’s swimming lessons received as much attention in the future as they do now.

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WORLD: Are swimming lessons even fully possible again?

Dietel: Yes, due to the long lockdown break, we are prioritizing kids swimming. Even before Corona, the demand was high. But in the meantime, almost two school years have accumulated that should have learned to swim in the past two pandemic years.

Fortunately, our massive warnings in this regard were heard by the politicians, and according to the Hamburg Senate decision, we were only allowed to open the indoor pools in the summer months exclusively for swimming lessons. From the beginning of June to the end of August, we offered over 200 beginner courses, around three to four times as many as in the pre-Corona comparison period.

Learning to swim still has priority at the moment, in addition to the courses at our Baederland swimming school, compulsory school and club swimming takes place on a regular basis. All other guest groups have to make compromises.

WORLD: Aren’t you reaching the limits of your capacity with your tightly scheduled time slots?

Dietel: Let’s put it this way, working amateur athletes and seniors have to be more flexible than before and visit the pools outside of swimming lesson times. Many are also members of our swim club, which gets in the water before the school swim. And because the time limits in the morning have not yet been fully exhausted, no one has to make a reservation.

In addition, the swimming club is by far our cheapest entry option. Depending on usage behavior, you save up to 80 percent on the normal price. So there are two very positive aspects that make swimming easily accessible and attractive despite all the Corona requirements.

WORLD: What do you think of compulsory vaccination for employees in swimming pools or saunas?

from Kieter: This is a discussion for society as a whole, for which we welcome the broad parliamentary involvement with a free decision of conscience.

This is how members of the Bundestag imagine compulsory vaccination

Vaccination will be compulsory. But for whom exactly? How long should it apply? And when? There are still many open questions about this. Some members of the Bundestag have made different proposals.

Source: WORLD / Isabell Finzel.

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