With pools closed, Peruvians turn to open-water swimming


Open water swimmers get ready by their cars on Pescadores beach where open water swimming is booming while pools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Lima, Peru, before sunrise Tuesday, April 27, 2021. One of the few sporting disciplines that have been maintained during the coronavirus pandemic is swimming, which due to the closure of the swimming pools, has moved to the open sea. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The swimmers began gathering even before dawn glimmers on Pescadores beach, plunging into the Pacific surf for one of the few athletic endeavors permitted under Peru’s strict pandemic restrictions.

Swimming pools have been closed for more than a year, but government has since Oct. 30 allowed open-water swimming, even if relaxing on the beach is banned to prevent mass gatherings.

Forty-three-year-old Lorena Choy said swimming “relaxes me, unstresses me. … It helps a lot psychologically.”

Swimming coach Víctor Solís, 47, said he estimated that the number of swimmers out each morning has multlplied fivefold recently.

Peru is one of the countries hardest hit, per capita, by COVID-19. Hospitals remain overwhelmed and oxygen remains in short supply.

“We don’t stop hearing bad news all day long, and that’s a little bit of the reason why we need to escape,” said José Echeandía, a 54-year-old lawyer, after swimming more than an hour in the chilly waters.

Robert Yatto, 56, has been swimming at the beach for more than three decades, and lately uses a Captain America wetsuit.

Before the pandemic, the beach alongside the capital was a favorite for the working classes, but the swimmers tend to be wealthier people with access to cars or those living nearby.

Peru, with nearly 32 million people, has reported more than 1.7 million cases of the new coronavirus and more than 60,000 deaths.

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