SWIMMERS across Scotland will be heading for their last length today, with pools closing from tonight as the new level 4 lockdown begins, but the sports governing body is urging the First Minister to rethink the ban.

It warned the restrictions could have a human cost. Scottish Swimming says heading to the pool is both safe when it comes to Covid, and for many people, a lifeline. There were also warnings from leisure centre operators, who fear they may not be able to re-open when the new lockdown ends.

From 6pm tonight, Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dun-bartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire, Stirling, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, and West Lothian will all be in level 4, the highest tier of the Scottish coronavirus restrictions.

That means that all non-essential shops, as well as pubs and restaurants, libraries, hairdressers, gyms and swimming pools will close.

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Scottish Swimming says its sport should be exempt. It says “the unique weight-bearing properties of water and the low-impact nature” of swimming means “it is accessible to all and can be a lifeline for the elderly and those with serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease”. Swimming, it said, “is a safe sport”.

In a statement, the organisation pointed out that since the re-opening of the leisure sector – according to the latest UK data, measured from July 25 to October 11 – sites have seen more than 45 million visits, with an overall rate of 0.99 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 visits. “This is testament to the robust guidelines in place and the work of the pool operators to ensure compliance with guidance to make pools safe environments,” Scottish Swimming said.

It also accused the government of saying “little about the value of sport,” saying: “Sport can play its part and needs to be seen as an essential tool in the fight against the virus as well as providing a valuable contribution to the nation’s mental and physical health. But for this to happen, swimming pools need to remain open.”

Chief executive Euan Lowe told The National: “We fully understand and support the need to protect the nation against Covid-19 and have some of the strictest guidance and compliance in place within the sector to do so, but we are very concerned about what impact these pool closures have on physical and mental health and well-being.”

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, which represents more than 4000 gyms and swimming pools, said: “We recognise the challenging decisions the Scottish Government has to make during this pandemic but our evidence shows that closing the fitness and leisure sector will only serve to exacerbate health issues and inequalities in our communities.”

The Scottish Government declined to comment.