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Surf Lifeguards Issue Warnings As More Beachgoers Expected At Level 3

Northern surf lifeguards are bracing for a wave of beach-goers heading to the coastline, as the country moves to Alert Level 3.

Surf lifesaving clubs were forced to shut early because of the COVID-19 lockdown, with the region’s Emergency Call Out Squads (ECOS) put on standby to respond to any in-water incidents.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region Chief Executive Matt Williams says the organisation is expecting a greater number of people on the coastline than would be normal for this time of year, as the alert levels drop.

“COVID-19 restrictions have reemphasised the important role our coastline plays in enriching the lives of New Zealanders,” he says. “Restricting the activities they love like surfing, swimming and land-based fishing has had a marked and widely communicated negative impact and we’re expecting to see a rapid, but hopefully safety-conscious, return to the coast as soon as Level 3 comes into play.”

Surf lifesaving has no planned patrols until Labour Weekend 2020, but in the interim the Northern Region’s 16 ECOS will be continue to be available, working with other emergency services should anyone get into trouble, says Williams.

He says lifeguards are relying on a sensible return to the coast from the public as the lockdown eases. “We know the public has it in them to return to coastal activities safely, in alignment with alert level requirements. However, our ability to respond to accidents arising from reckless behaviours and our tolerance for those behaviours is going to be somewhat less than normal.

“Now is not the time to be taking up new activities or challenges on the coast or stretching yourselves physically when getting back into the water.”

He urged all those considering going to the coast for recreation to check out the conditions on the Safeswim website (www.safeswim.org.nz) and to be extra-vigilant about observing the key safety rules and recommendations around social-distancing and hand sanitation.

Williams SLSNR has been busy over the last few weeks redefining its operations and funding in these imperfect times and advising the Government on sound coastal use during the crisis. “We’ve seen an erosion of our historical income streams at the same time as the COVID-19 lockdown has required us to rethink and review how we work as an emergency service; for the foreseeable future it has changed the core business of lifeguarding.”

“With the threat of the virus, how we approach rescues and management of patients and victims has to change because of the additional health risks. Our priority is to ensure we are able to continue to respond effectively to in-water incidents during these challenging times.”

In concert with these challenges, the organisation is facing an unprecedented funding crisis as current funding sources have been eroded overnight, says Williams. “Our organisation has always been mindful of this day, given our on-going reliance on volatile funding sources to meet core expenditure costs, and right now it’s more important than ever to receive further support so that we can to respond to COVID-related challenges and the expected boom in coastal use arising out of a localisation of recreation in the near future.

“Although Surf Life Saving has largely been community-funded, this model needs to be reviewed immediately in light of current events to ensure our organisation and the critical service we provide remains viable.”

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