by ALEC SMART
In an effort to curb potential spread of coronavirus, the NSW Govt closed Bondi Beach after thousands of people flocked there to take advantage of unseasonably warm weather. Beachgoers, who arrived in numbers resembling mid-summer crowds that typically swarm to Bondi during Xmas holidays, exceeded Australia’s limit of 500 people at outdoor social gatherings.
On 21 March, Police Minister David Elliott and NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb announced the closure of Australia’s iconic tourist beach amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s with a significant level of disappointment that we have to move today to not only remove people from Bondi Beach but use this as an opportunity to remind everybody that the Health Act must be complied with,” Elliot declared from the beachside.
“What we saw this morning on Bondi Beach was the most irresponsible behaviour of individuals so far. We cannot have an area of community activity where more than 500 people are gathered. That is exactly what these regulations under the Health Act have been forced to ensure people comply with. This is not something we’re doing because we’re the Fun Police. This is not something the government is doing because we want to make life easy. This is about saving lives.”
Closed beaches may be new norm
Elliot warned that other Sydney beaches must restrict numbers. “If the community does not comply with the regulations and the health warnings, this is going to become the new norm [closing beaches]… I’ve spoken with the police commissioner today in consultation with the police and surf lifesaving. We’ll now be seeing beaches across the state that fail to comply with the public gathering regulations closed.”
Pictures of the large crowd on the sands of Bondi Beach showing people in close proximity were shared on social media and appeared in foreign news reports, attracting widespread criticism.
“We need the public to be aware that some of them could be carrying this virus without even knowing,” Elliot warned. “Some of the photos I saw this morning from this very beach of dozens of families using communal showers and toilets they’re in complete denial of what this virus is all about… As police commissioner I cannot sit by and see the community not only ignore the laws, but blatantly flout them.”
Surf lifesavers will now be tasked to regulate beach attendance. If numbers exceed 500 and new arrivals refuse to turn away, Elliot said ligfesavers “will advise local area command if they believe the public area gathering is not compliant. Surf lifesavers will then close down the beach and order people to move on. If people do not comply, police will have powers to move on individuals.”
Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb added: “On 15 March, the Minister for Health in NSW adapted Section 7 of the Public Health Act that gave police powers [to move people on] for failure to quit public gatherings… The Prime Minister announced further measures [to restrict crowd sizes] about gatherings where there’s more than 500 people in public spaces or more than 100 in confined spaces.”
Waverley Council, which has jurisdiction over Bondi Beach, issued a statement by Waverley Mayor, Paula Masselos, on 21 March: “On behalf of everyone at Waverley Council, I strongly urge the public to observe Health advice. The public must at all times keep a minimum safe distance from each other in public places and if you don’t need to be out in public, please consider staying at home.
“We all have a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and I am frustrated that people continue to ignore Health advice about social distancing as observed yesterday at Bondi Beach. We all need to behave in a safe and responsible manner so that the spread of this virus can be slowed. No-one is immune to COVID-19 and behaving irresponsibly puts the entire community at risk.
“I also wish to reiterate the Health advice that anyone who is required to be in self-isolation refrain from visiting our public places. This includes overseas visitors who arrived in Australia before travel bans came into effect… Remember the following Health advice:
* observe social distancing
* clean your hands
* cover your coughs or sneezes
* stay at home if you are unwell and seek medical advice.”
For further updates about Waverley Council’s response to Covid-19, visit waverley.nsw.gov.au