Diving in times of COVID-19
After months of lockdown, people are slowly coming out again and taking stock of what has happened to the diving world. Those who can afford it, and unfortunately that does not include everyone, want, for the most part, to get back in the water and go see how the fish are doing after this enforced dry spell.
Dive centres that are now open have signed a lengthy government document with a list of new practices to be put in place and complied with for safe reopening. DAN, PADI, SSI and other agencies have also issued Covid-19 safety guidelines for reopening dive centres. Another issue on people's minds is 'how safe is it to dive again after having covid-19?'. New scientific and medical reports are coming out but the news is not all good. Finally, with only a small portion of the dive centres open and many still closed - hoping they can, at some point in future, reopen - what can you, as a diver, do to help and support the industry ?
What measures to protect divers from COVID-19 have been taken in Indonesia?
The mandatory Indonesian Government protocol, just like PADI's and DAN's guidelines, stresses the importance of physical distancing, mask wearing, and disinfection.
All dive centres need to have clearly marked hand washing facilities near the entrance and availability of hand sanitizer. Signs indicating Covid-19 safe protocol must be visible in all important areas. Divers are encouraged to clean their hands on arrival and regularly during the day ; and anything divers will touch is frequently disinfected in turn. All guests and staff must wear face masks at all times. Safe distance is to be kept . All gear must be carefully disinfected after diving and gear clearly marked to avoid sharing during diving activities. Divers are encouraged to bring their own gear if they can. Special measures are put in place regarding air sharing and rescue exercises.
At the time of writing, Indonesian borders are still closed to foreigners-except people having a resident permit- so the affluence in the dive centres is very low and these guidelines are pretty easy to enforce. If you are already here, you can go diving without putting yourself at risk, it's a much needed therapeutic break in these stressful times, which can only do your health, mental and physical, a lot of good.
Diving after having COVID-19, what do we know ?
There have been some research carried out on the long term effects of the virus on the lungs and how this affects diver safety. The virus can seriously damage your lungs but not all people who have had the virus have had lung problems, some are even asymptomatic so the answer to 'Is it safe to dive after having Covid-19 ?' is not at all straightforward.
Most doctors agree that if the person was not hospitalized, the risk is probably lower but it is worth checking the conditions of your lungs with a specialized doctor none the less, since in certain cases even asymptomatic patients were found with damage to the alveoli in their lungs.
For those who were hospitalized with 'Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome'- or SARS, the other name for covid type viruses - a three month window before resuming diving and thorough checks apply. The Belgian Society for Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine put out a full report in April of what we know to date. The report numbers 5 main risks related to diving :
#1 The risk of infection
The risk of either catching it or passing it on.
#2 The risk of pulmonary barotrauma
The severe damage that the virus can inflict on the lungs, in some cases permanently, could increase the chances of lung over-expansion injuries, even without a breath hold ascent.
#3 The risk of cardiac events
Damage to the heart can go unnoticed so it is advised, for those who were hospitalized for either heart or lung symptoms, to wait three months and undergo thorough checks before resuming diving.
#4 The risk of pulmonary oxygen toxicity
It seems that Covid-19 symptoms worsen with the use of oxygen. Tech divers are advised to be prudent with regard to prolonged breathing of hyperoxic gases, opinions diverge regarding Nitrox .
#5 The risk of decompression illness
Damaged lungs may increase the risk of arterial gas embolism and other forms of DCI.
DAN have covid-19 support on their helpline for divers and can refer you to dive doctors who can assess your fitness to dive in your area.
What can you do to support the diving industry ?
The dive industry is suffering terribly, a majority of dive centres have had to close, and some will probably not open again. A lot of dive centres are run by passionate individuals who run their businesses like a family.
In Bali, many of the dive centres have done all they could to ensure minimum survival money for their staff but the time is getting long now and it's hard to keep paying even minimum salaries 6 months down the line.
A great way to help is to book your dive holiday now and pay it (or at least some of it) now but go on it later ( when borders reopen for instance). This gives the dive centres a much needed life line and means you have a great trip to look forward to.
You can aslo use this time to increase your dive knowledge by doing online courses (dive knowledge and conservation courses for instance) or by doing the theory part of courses like Nitrox now and doing the diving bit later. Start a new course and do the e-learning now. Many agencies are offering big discounts at the moment.
If you know your favourite dive centre is struggling to pay their staff, why not organise a fundraiser. Even raising a few hundred euros may go a long way towards providing a bare minimum for dive centre staff in Indonesia.
The dive industry needs you : stay safe, get thoroughly checked if you've had Covid-19 and get back in the water, the fishies are waiting !