Madrid, May 7 (efe-epa).- Experts from Spain’s National Research Council said contagion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through contact with water was “very unlikely” meaning aquatic activities in swimming pools and beaches did not pose an infection risk.
The news will no doubt be a welcome relief to the travel sector which has been hammered by the consequences of pandemic lockdowns.
The report will contribute to the Spanish government’s action plan when it eventually relaunches the tourism sector, one of the country’s economic pillars.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism was down 22 percent in the first quarter of the year and could decline by 60-80 percent over the course of 2020.
In the first three months, there were 67 million fewer international tourists, resulting in a loss of around $80 billion globally.
The Spanish economy relies heavily on the tourism sector but the industry has been entirely shut down since the government decreed a state of alarm on 14 March, sending the country into one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
With a downward trend in Covid-19 infections, the Mediterranean country is now readying to deploy it’s de-escalation strategy and reviving the hospitality industry and tourism is at the heart of these measures.
The research council said the main sources of transmission for Covid-19 are respiratory secretions generated by coughs, sneezes, and person-to-person contact, and that the risks would still be the same on beaches, rivers, swimming pools or lakes meaning hygiene measures and social distancing should also be observed in these spaces.
The report said human to human infection during activities in beach water or swimming pools was unlikely but that because these activities imply “a suspension of the recommended measures of social distancing,” precautions were necessary.
The report analysed different communal bathing spaces and the most popular water sports and activities but did not go into detail over the necessary conditions of each activity in order to safeguard the population of infection as that would require a more in-depth study.
Researchers suggested codes of conduct should be the same as in other public places and that they were included in the “protocol and guide of good practices aimed at commercial activity in a physical and non-sedentary establishment” published by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.
After noting that contagion by contact with water was “very unlikely” and that the sources of infection were the same as in other areas, the report analyzed each site one by one.
In swimming pools and spas, where the use of disinfectants is widely implemented to avoid microbial contamination of waters, the residual concentration of the disinfection agent present in the water “should be enough to inactivate the virus.”
Aerosols used in springwater spas would also have the same disinfection characteristics, according to the researchers.
In thermal spas where water is kept at a high temperature, such as saunas or steam baths, scientists believe the survival of the virus is curbed owing to the heat.
The study added there was no data on the survival of the virus in seawater, but scientists said the dilution effect and the presence of salt are factors that are likely to contribute to a decrease in viral load and its possible deactivation “by analogy to what happens with similar viruses.”
However, the report warned that the survival of the virus in river water, lakes, or in fresh and untreated water pools could be superior to the effect in chlorinated or salty pools, so precautionary measures should be taken to avoid crowds.
These aquatic environments are “the most inadvisable” especially small pools where dilution is less effective.
There are no studies either on the prevalence of the virus in sand or river banks, but researchers believe that the combination of seawater salt, solar radiation and high temperatures “are favourable for the inactivation of pathogens.”
Scientists have also advised against disinfecting the soils of natural spaces with the usual procedures that are being used in urban public spaces, and have drawn attention to the importance of disinfecting the sand on beaches while respecting the environment. EFE-EPA