Spike in Aussie drownings linked to COVID

·2-min read

The number of drowning deaths in Australia has reached its highest point in 25 years, with COVID-19 blamed for helping to push up the tally as beachgoers are urged to know their limits.

There were 339 drownings nationwide in the 12 months to June 30, up from 295 the previous year and the highest reported tally since 1996.

More than a third occurred in coastal locations, the Royal Life Saving Society and Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) said on Friday.

"This year has been the worst we have experienced (in) collecting coastal drowning information during the past 18 years," SLSA chief executive Adam Weir said.

"Despite performing more than 8600 rescues and over 58,300 first aid treatments, there were 141 coastal drowning deaths recorded.

"This is a distressing result for all emergency service groups in addition to being devastating to so many families, friends and loved ones."

The increase in drownings to its highest point since 1996 has been linked to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as travel bans, although the annual tally also includes 39 flood-related deaths.

Almost half of coastal fatalities happened more than 5km from a surf lifesaving service as Australians sought out secluded and unfamiliar beaches.

"With many of these tragedies unfolding at remote and isolated locations, SLSA is appealing for the public to consider where they are recreating and understand their limitations," Mr Weir said.

He urged people to swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags.

The number of drownings among over-65s increased by more than a third to 94, with males accounting for the most deaths across all age groups.

While fewer infants and toddlers drowned than in previous years, there was a slight increase in deaths among children aged five to 14.

"Increased drowning deaths in school-aged children is tragic and may be a sign of generational impacts of lessons missed due to COVID-19," Royal Life Saving Society Australia chief executive Justin Scarr said.

"Swimming and water safety lessons are critical to child safety."

The report predicted the temporary closure of pools and swim schools during the pandemic could impact Australians for years to come, with the industry struggling to recruit instructors and lifeguards.