LONDON (AP) – Police around the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth urged people to stay away on Thursday as thousands defied the coronavirus social remote control rules and flocked to the local beaches on what was the hottest day of the year so far in the UK.
Amid widespread violation of the rules, a “major incident” was declared for the area, which is largely rural and is driven only by cars on narrow lanes. This gives local authorities and emergency services additional powers to address the issue.
Images of the cluttered beaches seemed to prompt the British government’s medical director to issue a rare social media warning.
Professor Chris Whitty tweeted that COVID-19 remains in “general circulation” and that cases will increase if people do not follow the guidelines.
“Of course people will want to enjoy the sun, but we have to do it in a way that is safe for everyone,” he said.
Whitty’s intervention came after Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said the services were “completely congested” as people went to shore one day confirming meteorologists as the hottest of 2020. The mercury hit 33.3 C (about 92 F) at Heathrow Airport in London.
Additional police patrols have been put in place and security has been put in place to protect waste collectors, who, according to the municipality, have faced “widespread abuse and intimidation” when emptying overflowing bins. Roads that were jammed until the early hours now have signs telling people the area is full, the municipality said.
Council leader Vikki Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at the scenes on the beaches – particularly in Bournemouth and Sandbanks for the past two days.
“The irresponsible behavior and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services have gone to great lengths to protect everyone,” she said. “We now have no choice but to report a major incident and initiate an emergency.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that some of the lockdown restrictions will be eased from July 4, including allowing pubs and restaurants to open their doors. He also effectively announced that the two-meter (6.5 feet) social distance rule will be reduced to one meter (about three feet) from that date, a measure largely aimed at strengthening businesses.
The relaxation has received a lot of criticism, not least because the UK continues to register relatively many new coronavirus infections and deaths. On Thursday, the government said another 149 people who tested positive for the virus had died, with a total of 43,230, by far the highest in Europe.
“It is clear that we are still in a public health crisis and such a large number of people who migrate to a particular area are putting further pressure on the emergency services,” said Sam de Reya, Dorset police.
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