Popular Sydney Beaches Closed, Beachgoers Blasted For Defying Social Distancing
A number of popular Sydney beaches have been closed after crowds refused to abide by social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt criticised the crowds at Bondi Beach the day before.
"If you are breaking these rules you are putting, not just yourself, but you are putting other Australians at risk," he said.
He also called on local councils to crack down on the behaviour.
Shortly after, the NSW government took the matter into its own hands.
Announcing the closure of Bondi Beach, the state Police Minister David Elliott said the measure was not about being the "fun police" but to save lives.
"This is because we need you to be safe," Elliott said on Saturday afternoon.
"This is because we need the public to be aware they could be carrying the virus without even knowing."
Elliott said images of dozens of families using communal showers and toilets was worrying and disappointing.
"As the police minister, I cannot sit by and see the community not only ignore the laws but blatantly flout them" he said.
The minister warned other beaches across the state would also be closed if they exceed the 500 person crowd limit.
"If the community does not comply with the regulations and the health warnings, well then, this is going to become the new norm," Elliott said.
"If people do not comply, then police will have the power to move on individuals."
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb said while there were a number of powers police could use to ensure people comply with the public health regulations, using them was "the last thing police want to do".
"NSW Police want to work with the community and it's a shared responsibility," Webb said.
"We ask people to follow the health warnings and take responsibility for yourselves and each other. It's a last resort for police to step in and take action."
She said the laws were about protecting the community.
"It's a very dangerous disease and virus and we are trying to reduce the impact on the citizens of NSW," she said.
"These are unprecedented times where the pandemic is a severe health risk."
Surf Life Saving NSW said beaches will be closed across the state where crowds exceed 500 people.
Volunteer lifesavers and council lifeguards will be patrolling beaches and be directed to close them where necessary to comply with the mass gathering regulations.
“This is yet another way in which we are reacting to a constantly changing public safety environment in regards to this pandemic,” Surf Life Saving NSW President George Shales said.
“In the interests of public safety and the safety of our volunteers, we must heed the advice of the authorities and do what we can to put in place measures that might contain the spread of this virus,” he said.
Waverley Council said it closed all three of its popular beaches -- Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte -- immediately after the Minister's announcement on Saturday.
The beaches would remain closed until further notice as the council worked out how to deal with the new restrictions, local Mayor Paula Masselos said.
Masselos also urged anyone who was asked to move along from the beach to be respectful to lifeguards and volunteers.
“We have only just found out about this announcement, and need time to work through how it translates to the practical day to day," she said.
"If you're from across wider Sydney and are thinking to coming to Bondi, I welcome you to visit our local businesses but please don't plan on going to the beach as it is closed."
A short time later, Randwick Council announced it would also be closing its beaches on Sunday in response to the government's new regulations.
The popular Coogee, Maroubra and Clovelly beaches will all be closed.
No red/yellow flags will be on the beaches and instead, large 'closed' signs will be installed, the council said.
Local mayor Danny Said released a statement saying it was the "safest approach for everybody."
“Given the sunny weather forecast of 27 degrees for Sunday, it is highly likely that beach numbers will exceed the 500-person cap announced by the NSW Government today,” he said.
“Throughout this pandemic, our priority has always been public health and safety and we are again prioritising this by taking this proactive decision."
More than a third of the around 1000 COVID-19 cases recorded in Australia are in NSW. The state has also recorded six of the nation's seven deaths from the virus.