Editorial comment: Reopening the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds isn’t worth the risk, yet

There is some debate as to whether it is safe to reopen the Ponds. Picture: Andr� Langlois

There is some debate as to whether it is safe to reopen the Ponds. Picture: Andr� Langlois - Credit: Archant

For many of us – those privileged enough to have escaped the worst of this awful disease so far – the loss of the pubs, the leisure facilities and, above all, the freedom that we are used to is the biggest sacrifice we have been asked to make during lockdown.

On Hampstead Heath, the early months of the year, when the coronavirus was perhaps malignly amongst us but not yet recognised, were marked by a fight over the use of the historic bathing ponds.

The ponds have been closed since mid-March now, and it seems telling that those who fought most fiercely for them in February and March are not those attacking the City of London Corporation for keeping them shut for the time being.

As with every other shuttered business or attraction, at some stage the benefits of being open to the public once again will outweigh the risks to public health – but can we say with any certainty we are there yet?

And on Hampstead Heath, adherence to social distancing guidelines is already slapdash at best – can would-be returning swimmers really guarantee that lifeguards and City of London Corporation staff would be safely able to manage the demand for swimming at the ponds?

To answer both questions: it seems unlikely. And it is reckless to demand this at a time when, although death rates are not as shocking as they were a month ago, people are still dying at hospitals like the Royal Free, a brisk walk away from the Heath’s Mixed Pond.

We all miss the simple pleasures we are used to – and there’s no denying that cold water swimming could help people’s mental and physical health – but it just isn’t worth risking the tentative progress our NHS heroes have made battling the coronavirus.

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We need to be patient.