by ALEC SMART
Several of Sydney’s south shore beaches, which reopened on 20 April for exercises such as swimming, jogging and surfing, were closed just a few days later on 24 April due to reported violations of strict social distancing laws. These included the popular Randwick City Council-administered Clovelly, Coogee and Maroubra beaches.
Police also closed Balmoral and Chinaman’s Beach at the entrance of Middle Harbour on Sydney’s north side, after observing more people relaxing on the sand than exercising.
Meanwhile, Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama, beaches managed by Waverley Council, have remained fenced-off to the public in compliance with the Covid-19 lockdown, although changes will be implemented on 28 April (see below).
By contrast, North Shore beaches have remained continuously open for surfing and swimming, from Manly at the entrance of Sydney Harbour to Palm Beach in Sydney’s far north.
Cronulla and Wanda beaches in Sutherland Shire are again open for exercise-only usage after they were closed over Easter.
Unwanted waves of people
The social distancing laws were introduced across NSW on 15 March 2020 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. However, beach closures were enforced from Saturday March 21 after police were employed to disperse successive waves of people that descended upon Bondi Beach over two days of warm temperatures.
The closely-packed crowds, which attracted widespread attention and were condemned across social media, breached the Australian Govt’s social distancing regulations that, at the time, limited public gatherings to 500 people. Police Minister David Elliott and NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb held a beach-side press conference to announce the closure of Australia’s iconic tourist attraction.
“What we saw this morning on Bondi Beach was the most irresponsible behaviour of individuals so far,” Elliot declared. “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.”
Ten days later the NSW Govt scaled back the 500 persons limit to a maximum of two people together in public, and only when exercising or undertaking essential trips.
On Monday 20 April Randwick City Council reopened all its beaches, stretching from Clovelly to Yarra Bay, albeit patrolled by rangers and contained by the recently-installed steel fencing with limited entry and exit points to help control numbers.
However, as the numbers of beach-goers accumulated over the next few days, lifeguards found they were unable to discourage groups from setting up on the sand. Around midday on Friday, Coogee Beach was closed, followed by Maroubra, shortly after 1pm. Lifeguards drew people from the sea by sounding the shark alarms then instructed people to leave the three beaches and promenade areas. Beach buggies were used to herd people from the sand and NSW Police were also utilised to marshall people out of the area.
At Coogee, a man in red boardshorts reportedly tried to flout the closure by making a dash for the water but he was intercepted by a lifeguard riding a jet ski. Police officers took his details before releasing him with a caution.
“We found that there were lots of kids and families paddling at the shoreline, which increased numbers on the sand,” a Randwick Council spokeswoman told the Daily Telegraph. “We really need for people to get to the beach, do their exercise then leave.”
Randwick Council’s Mayor, Danny Said, remonstrated that families and groups of locals should not congregate on the sand. “If residents head to the beach, it should be to go for a quick swim, surf or soft sand run, then home again.”
Randwick City Council then issued new regulations to deter people from using beaches to relax and socialise. Reduced access is allowed to only Coogee, Clovelly and Maroubra beaches in the mornings, between 6am and 9am, beginning over the Anzac Day weekend. A further extension of hours is subject to reassessment.
“All other unpatrolled beaches in Randwick City will remain closed until further notice. These beaches include Gordon’s Bay, Malabar beach, Little Bay beach, Frenchmans beach, Yarra Bay and Congwong beach.
Ocean rock pools in Randwick City will remain closed until further notice as they are subject to a public health order to close.”
Waverley not wavering on wave access
Meanwhile, from Tuesday 28 April Waverley Council is overseeing a policy that will allow limited access to the sea, managed by rangers, at the three beaches it administers. Lifeguards will patrol the Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama beaches between 7am and 5pm on weekdays only. However, there will be no red and yellow safety flags to swim between, so people enter the water at their own risk.
“Surfers and swimmers will be responsible for their own safety when they enter the water,” Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos insisted. “Our strict measures are not for paddlers and casual bathers.”
On 22 April Mayor Masselos announced Waverley Council’s strict new ‘Swim & Go’ and ‘Surf & Go’ measures to be implemented at Bondi and Bronte beaches, with ‘Surf & Go’ only at Tamarama Beach.
In an online post the council explained: “Waverley’s beaches remain CLOSED until further notice. Our Swim & Go and Surf & Go measures only provide access to the water for surfers, paddle boarders, kayakers and swimmers who otherwise cannot exercise at home… These areas are NOT for paddling around in the waves, they are for exercise only…
“Surfing will be permitted at Tamarama and Mackenzies Bay but the beach remains closed to swimmers and all land-based activity. As per Public Health Orders, all public ocean pools, including Bronte Pool, remain closed.
“Our Council recognises how important exercise is for health and wellbeing, and we’ve worked hard to come up with these strict measures as a way of helping people exercise safely in the water and manage strict social distancing,” Ms Masselos continued.
“The measures will provide a safe way for local surfers and experienced swimmers to exercise safely in the water. The measures have a strong emphasis on social distancing. And as the term ‘Swim & Go’ and ‘Surf & Go’ suggests, surfers and swimmers must exit the water as soon as they finish exercising and return home.
“Remember, these measures are not designed for people to have a dip or paddle or for children to play on the sand. Our area has recorded around 180 cases of COVID-19, and while this figure remains stable, we must remain vigilant.”