Not all playgrounds in Kent are being cleaned despite government request to help stop coronavirus spread

It's been almost a fortnight since playgrounds began reopening to children and their families and amongst the new rules issued to those opening the gates is that regular cleaning takes place to prevent transmission of coronavirus.

But with council resources and finances already stretched and Kent and Medway full of hundreds of adventure playgrounds and play parks, we look at how possible councils are finding it to meet the request...

With children touching numerous surfaces, councils have been advised to clean play areas regularly
With children touching numerous surfaces, councils have been advised to clean play areas regularly

After months of endless bike rides, scooter trips and walks, families were offered a new way to spend time outside with cooped-up offspring when Boris Johnson announced that playgrounds could reopen from July 4.

But the reopening of the county's play areas has not been entirely plain sailing as council staff get to grips with a raft of new rules and assess the safety of sites locked down since March.

Scientific advice suggests the virus can live for 'up to several days' on hard surfaces, albeit the risk is thought to be reduced if contaminated surfaces are exposed to strong UV light or rain.

However the government has warned those opening play areas this summer that there is the possibility that anyone touching a contaminated surface could pick up the virus during a visit.

In government guidelines relating to the reopening of playgrounds and outdoor gyms, the lengthy document says: "The virus could survive long enough on frequently used/touched outdoor surfaces to facilitate transmission'.

Consequently councils have been advised to deal with any potential risk by regularly cleaning play areas where they can.

The hit-list published by central government suggests teams focus on monkey bars and climbing equipment, semi enclosed play houses, crawl through tunnels or tube slides, gates, benches or picnic tables and rubbish bins.

Maidstone Borough Council, which is responsible for large popular play areas in Mote Park and at Cobtree Manor Park that attract hundreds of small visitors, was one of the first councils to have all 70 of its play areas unlocked by 10am on July 4.

However the authority says it is not possible for it to clean equipment now that parks are up and running again.

In a message on its Facebook page it wrote: "Unfortunately we are not going to be able to clean the play equipment as we have over 70 play areas to look after and cannot control their use.

"Therefore we are asking parents and carers to take extra care when they are using them and wash children's hands or use sanitiser before and after they use it."

Parents are asked to sanitise their children's hands before and after using play areas
Parents are asked to sanitise their children's hands before and after using play areas

That approach has been echoed by other Kent councils who say the job of washing down play areas regularly is simply too great.

Swale council says it has made changes to help families follow guidelines - such as removing some swings to allow for social distancing - but it won't be cleaning play areas.

However it has added signs with new safety advice - which include suggestions that parents and carers clean equipment before and after their children use it.
A spokesman added: “We have put up clear signage to explain how the play areas should be used, and we urge people to do as asked to help us keep each other safe.”

Signs on play equipment across Swale recommends parents clean items their children touch before and after using them
Signs on play equipment across Swale recommends parents clean items their children touch before and after using them

Medway council said it too would not be disinfecting play areas due to the sheer large number it owns, which is close to 100 play parks.

The council says families should use sanitiser before and after playing and ensure hands are washed more thoroughly with soap and warm immediately on returning home.

Signs up also ask no one to eat or drink in play areas, that parents encourage children not to touch their face or put their mouths on equipment and to always follow social distancing.

In Sevenoaks, prior to reopening, the council disinfected all its play areas and signs were added to encourage hand washing. Playgrounds will be monitored, said a council spokesman, but cleaning teams will only be sent 'as required'.

Whilst Ashford council said that it too could not possibly clean all equipment and surfaces in each of its play areas regularly. A spokesman said the borough had 'too many play areas' to be able to do this everywhere.

Instead playgrounds have been risk assessed and signs added telling visitors the maximum number of children who should be playing at any one time and other things visitors should be mindful of.

In north Kent, Gravesham council said it would clean 'high touch' areas of its playgrounds more often with handles on gates into playgrounds, outdoor exercise equipment, slides and ladders all on the list of items to get a little more attention.

Scientists say coronavirus can live long enough on surfaces for others to pick it up
Scientists say coronavirus can live long enough on surfaces for others to pick it up

But further down the county in Canterbury, the city council said it was still trying to plan how to meet the new government guidelines for its 49 play areas.

Spokesman Leo Whitlock said: "A number of our biggest and most popular playgrounds are now open with more to come over time.

"Working closely with our cleansing contractor Serco, we are learning the lessons from the sites that have already reopened and working out the cleaning regime that will be needed for all of our playgrounds going forward.

"Whatever that regime, it is important for parents and guardians to continue to be guided by government advice around social distancing, being mindful of how many people are already using the equipment and hand washing."

But down on the Kent coast cleaning regimes are being put in place in two districts.

Folkestone and Hythe Council, which owns the large popular adventure playground at The Lower Leas Coastal Park, said its main parks and playgrounds are being cleaned daily with others being cleaned by staff every other day.

And along the coast in Thanet, which opened 11 of 33 play areas on July 6 following deep cleans, the council has also introduced regular cleaning.

All play areas now open, said a Thanet District Council spokesman, will be subjected to a twice-weekly clean on Mondays and Thursdays with diluted disinfectant.

Thanet council is also reminding families that no food or drink should be taken into its play areas to further manage the risk and parents should bring their own hand sanitiser also.

Further information can be found at www.thanet.gov.uk/service-status

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