Covid-19 has led to unprecedented challenges for our society and has led to the implementation of significant measures by government as they have sought to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of contraction to individuals.
In light of restrictions introduced in Northern Ireland on 18 December 2020, and growing concern regarding the impact of such restrictions on children and young people’s opportunities to play, PlayBoard would like to reiterate the current position regarding fixed play areas.
The Importance of Play during the Pandemic
Children and young people have a natural desire to play and the opportunity to engage in a range of outdoor play activities is critical to their physical and mental health and wellbeing, social development and the learning and development of new skills.
Research undertaken by PlayBoard NI and the University of Ulster, Barnardo’s and others during the pandemic has highlighted the significant negative impact lockdown restrictions have had on children and young people’s health and wellbeing. Reductions in physical and social outdoor interactions have led to reduced levels of physical activity through play, whilst restricted social play opportunities have resulted in increased levels of anxiety and concern at the long-term impact of social isolation on friendships.
As we continue to come through the pandemic it is important that we not only recognise the importance of play and getting outdoors but work to ensure that children continue to have access to play opportunities, albeit in line with broader public health messaging regarding social distancing, personal hygiene etc.
Scientific and Medical Evidence
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Northern Ireland has stated that evidence gathered through the pandemic to date indicates that child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission within play settings and outdoors is not common.
Current scientific and medical evidence, when weighted against the negative impact of restrictions on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children, is that outdoor play parks should remain open and accessible at this time. Users of such facilities should at all times give due consideration to current public health guidance as it relates to personal hygiene, social distancing and face mask wearing in public spaces.
This position is confirmed by scientific evidence and research conducted by the UK Play Safety Forum, which indicates that the level of Covid-19 risk to children, particularly in outdoor locations such as outdoor fixed play areas, parks and open spaces is relatively low in comparison to other groups in society.
Guidance for Users of Fixed Play Areas
As of 27 January 2021, under current Covid-19 restrictions announced by the NI Executive are outdoor fixed play areas are permitted to remain open.
This decision is based on recognition of the benefits of outdoor play in terms of physical and mental health and wellbeing, and scientific evidence indicating that outdoor environments represent a lower level of risk in relation to Coronavirus transmission.
Whilst the level of transmission risk is lower for children than for adults, it is critical that when visiting fixed play areas adults accompanying children ensure adherence to guidance developed by PlayBoard NI and local council partners. This includes:
Social Distancing and Wearing of Face Masks
When visiting a play park make sure that you follow current government guidance on social distancing, encourage and support your children to do the same and keep a safe distance from others not in your household/social bubble.
Adults should wear a face mask unless they are within one of the exempt groups.
Busy Play Parks
If the play park is busy, consider coming back at a later time and let your child know in advance that this may be a possibility to avoid disappointment.
Wash your hands and wash your children’s hands before and after visiting the play park. Take hand sanitiser with you and ensure that you and your child use it frequently whilst in the play park.
Make sure that any disposable tissues, PPE equipment etc. is disposed of in the litter bins provided or, if one is not available take it home for disposal.
If you or anyone in your household are showing any Coronavirus symptoms, stay home and do not visit the play park.