SIX months of lockdown measures has meant children are six months behind in their swimming classes prompting warnings about increased dangers around waterways this summer.
It comes as five children aged two or under have lost their lives in the past seven weeks in Victoria, the most recent at Portarlington on September 3 when a child fell off the pier.
Other drownings in the past two months include two in home environments and two that have occurred in inland waterways such as dams.
With pools having been closed for the majority of the past six months, most children will be at least that far behind in their swimming lessons, raising concerns of the possibility of a number of deaths this summer.
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But it's not just the children's lack of skills that are concerning swimming professionals, with warnings for adults as well to be wary that they themselves might find that a lack of use of their muscles in recent month may also make it difficult for experienced swimmers while in the water.
"The limited or complete lack of access to aquatic facilities during 2020 has meant there will be an entire cohort of children who have missed out on these programs," A Ballarat Aquatic Centre spokesperson said.
"However, regardless of a child's swimming ability, all children should always be actively supervised while swimming, and anyone with swimming pools at home should ensure that fences and gates are maintained and meet legislative requirements.
"Adults who are regular visitors to aquatic facilities should also apply caution when getting back into the water when restrictions ease, as fitness levels and ability will have decreased."
Life Saving Victoria's principal research associate Bernadette Matthews said the recent drownings were a sad reminder of the need to play it safe by the water, especially after a period in which many Victorian families have had fewer experiences around water during restrictions.
"Our thoughts go out to all of the families and friends following these tragic incidents," Dr Matthews said.
"The time it takes for a toddler to drown is devastatingly short - 20 seconds is all it takes.
"As we come into Spring, we urge all parents and guardians to always keep children under 5 within arm's reach when around water and children under 10 should always be within sight."
Dr Matthews said she was concerned about the lack of water experience in all ages this year.:
"Life Saving Victoria is concerned about reduced levels of community preparedness when it comes to water safety that may lead to increased drowning incidents," she said.
"Community water safety awareness is likely to be reduced this year due to COVID-19 containment measures that have limited people's access to usual water safety preparedness activities.
"Water safety might not be front of mind for many Victorians this year, we need to stress the importance of constant, active supervision around water at the home and elsewhere when it comes to young children. For children under five, this means being within arm's reach at all times when they are around water.
"Looking at the warmer months ahead in this context is certainly of concern to us, especially when looking at some of the examples from the northern hemisphere summer which show there has been a surge in demand for water-based recreation when restrictions ease. We will likely see this take place in Victoria as the weather warms up, too.
"Another concern is that we're also likely to see numbers of people, in an effort to distance themselves from densely populated locations, move to unfamiliar locations and unsupervised water environments that are likely to put them at greater risk of drowning and injury."
Kidsafe Victoria General Manager Jason Chambers highlighted the range of potential drowning hazards that exist in public and home environments, particularly for toddlers.
"Toddlers can drown in as little as a few centimetres of water," Mr Chambers said. "As well as larger bodies of water such as pools, spas and dams, other potential hazards include baths, ponds, eskies with melted ice and buckets of water."
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