Estonians are diving into icy water to fend off the coronavirus blues

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© Reuters. Man shows thumbs up while swimming during a biggest winter swimming relay in Tallinn

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TALLINN (Reuters) – Over 500 swimmers swam in the near-freezing waters of the Estonian port of Tallinn on Friday, taking part in a huge winter swimming relay in a country where sport has been a popular way to counter the boredom of coronavirus restrictions.

The 505 participants swam the 25 meter long course, which was marked on a former submarine shipyard, and it took 4 hours and 50 minutes.

The swimmers, many wearing funny hats, ranged from a 9-year-old boy to an 83-year-old woman, and a pregnant woman joking of her efforts should be counted for two.

"It's actually a smart thing to do right now," said Roy Vissers, one of the swimmers, after emerging from 4-degree water into sub-freezing air.

He believed that the sport offered good protection against COVID-19.

"When you do this, your body makes extra white blood cells. So when a virus gets in there are more white blood cells to attack and kill," he told Reuters.

Dozens of spectators cheered on the track, many from whirlpools and mobile saunas set up on the side.

Aivar Tugedam, an avid winter swimmer who organized the event, said he had seen the sport grow in popularity since Estonia first implemented a coronavirus lockdown in the spring.

“Let's say that from spring to now, the number of winter swimmers in Estonia has tripled. It has become wild and very popular, ”he said.

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